Step 1: Get the petition.
You can get a “petition for protection,” as it is called, from the court clerk at any circuit or district court, or from a district court commissioner in your city/county during regular court hours. District court commissioners are available anytime if the courts are closed. If you want a temporary order, you may want to express this to the clerk when you get the forms. To find the courthouse closest to you, go to the MD Courthouse Locations page. To find a district court commissioner in your area you can visit the District Court of MD Commissioner Directory.
You can ask the court clerk to provide you with a “notification request form” to fill out if you would like to be notified once the temporary order (and, later, the final order) is served on the abuser.1 (By law, the clerk is supposed to provide this form to you.2) If you complete this form, law enforcement would notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services within two hours of serving the abuser and the Department has one hour to notify you of the service.3
1 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(1)
2 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-504(d)(3)
3 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law, §§ 4-504.1(g)(3); 4-505(b)(1)(ii)
Step 2: Carefully fill out the necessary forms.
On the petition, you are the “petitioner” and the abuser is the “respondent.” Write briefly about the most recent incident(s) of violence, using descriptive language - words like “slapping,” “hitting,” “grabbing,” “threatening,” “choking,” etc. - that fits your situation. Be specific.
When giving your address, you may want to give a safe mailing address and phone number or ask the clerk if you can keep this information confidential if you don’t want the abuser to know where you are staying.
If you need assistance filling out the forms, you may be able to ask the clerk for help. Some courts may have an advocate that can assist you. Another option is to find help through a local domestic violence organization – see our MD Advocates and Shelters page. A clerk or advocate can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write. You will find links to the forms you will need at our MD Download Court Forms page or from the courthouse in your area.
Be sure to sign the forms in front of a notary or a clerk. Remember to bring some form of photo identification since this may be necessary to have your petition notarized in court.
Step 3: The ex parte hearing
When you are done filling out the forms, the clerk will take your completed file to a judge for your ex parte hearing. This is a preliminary hearing that can grant you a petition for protection (a temporary protective order). At this hearing, the judge will read your petition for protection and may ask you why you want a final protective order and some additional questions.
If the judge grants a temporary protective order, the court clerk will give you a copy of the order. Review the order before you leave the courthouse to make sure that the information is correct. If something is wrong or missing, you may be able to ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave. The temporary order is good until you have your scheduled hearing for a final protective order. The judge will also set a date for your final hearing, which is usually within 7 days.1
1 MD Code, Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)
Step 4: Service of process
The abuser must be “served,” or given papers that tell him/her about the hearing date and your temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one). Do not attempt to serve the papers on the abuser yourself.
The clerk will either send the order to the police, or have you bring it to the police yourself. The police will then find the abuser and serve him/her notice of the temporary protective order (if the judge gave you one) as well as the notice of the scheduled final protective order hearing. There is no charge to have the authorities serve the abuser.1
Furthermore, you have the right to be notified within three hours after an interim, temporary or final protective order is served on the abuser.2 (Law enforcement has two hours to notify the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and that Department has one hour to notify you.3) The court clerk is supposed to provide you with a notification request form to fill out when you file for your protective order.4 Be sure to ask for it if you want to be notified.
1 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(b)(3)
2 MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(1)
3 MD Code, Family Law, §§ 4-504.1(f)(3); 4-505(b)(1)(ii)
4 MD Code, Family Law, § 4-504(d)(3)
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Step 5: The final hearing
The judge will set a final hearing date usually within 7 days of when you filed your petition.1 You must go to the hearing if you want to keep your protective order. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary protective order will expire and you will have to start the process over again.
If the abuser has received notice of the hearing, but does not show up, the judge may continue with the hearing anyway.2 The temporary order will usually only last until the hearing, but it may be extended in some situations. For example, if the abuser has not received notice of the hearing and does not show up, the judge may order a new hearing date and extend your temporary restraining order for a period of up to 6 months to allow for service.3
Note: A case can be continued (postponed) if there is “good cause” to do so.1 If the court does issue a continuance, the judge should also reissue or extend your temporary order since your original one will probably expire before the rescheduled hearing.
Generally, it is a good idea to have a lawyer represent you, especially if you think the abuser will have one. Go to our MD Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals. If you are going to be representing yourself, see the Preparing Your Case page for tips.
1 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(b)(1)(ii)
2 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-506(c)(1)
3 MD Code Ann., Fam. Law § 4-505(c)(2)