Step 1 - Fill out the necessary forms.
To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a protection from abuse (PFA) order. If you need to keep your address confidential, you can file a “Motion to Keep Address Confidential.” You can get the forms from the civil clerk at the District Courthouse or you can download them and fill them out at home or with an advocate from a local domestic violence program. You will find links to forms online on our ME Download Court Forms page.
On the forms, you will be the “plaintiff” and the abuser will be the “defendant.” In the box provided for explaining why you want the protection from abuse order, write about incidents of abuse, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. The court may not allow you to testify to any abuse that happened before the dates you list in the order so you may want to list past abuse also so that the court can see a pattern of abuse if it exits. Clerks and magistrates can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.
Note: Do not sign the forms until you are in front of a notary or a clerk. The complaint has to be notarized. This means that you must sign the complaint, swearing that it is true, in front of the clerk, or a notary public.
Most domestic violence programs can provide support for you while you fill out these papers and go to court. Go to ME Advocates and Shelters page for local organizations.
Step 2 - The judge reviews your complaint and may issue a temporary PFA order.
The clerk will show your complaint to the judge. After s/he reads it, s/he may want to know more. The judge might talk to you. S/he may ask you to explain the abuse in more detail. The judge will decide whether or not to issue you a temporary PFA order and will set a hearing date for the final PFA hearing.
Step 3 - Service of process
This step will be slightly different, depending on whether or not the judge granted you a temporary order.
If you were granted a temporary order for protection from abuse, the clerk will ask a police officer or deputy sheriff to serve the complaint and temporary order and notice of hearing on the defendant.
It is the court’s responsibility to arrange service. To speed up service, however, in some cases the court may ask the plaintiff if s/he wants to take the court papers to the law enforcement agency. You may call the law enforcment agency to find out when the papers are served on the defendent. If the defendent is not in Maine, you may be responsible for arranging service. To contact the appropriate sheriff department in another state, you can go to our Sheriff Departments page and enter the state where the defendant lives.
The clerk will give you a certified copy of the complaint, temporary order and notice of hearing. The court must schedule a hearing within 21 days.1 The notice of hearing will tell you the date and time. You must be present at the stated date and time or the order will be dismissed. If you have a genuine emergency that keeps you from getting to the court on the given date and time, you may notify the court and ask for a continuance. The judge will decide whether to continue the hearing to a later date.
The defendant has the right to petition the court for an expedited hearing to dissolve the temporary order. This hearing can happen within 48 hours notice or less to you.2
If you were not granted a temporary PFA order, it will be scheduled for a final hearing within 21 days1 (unless the case is dismissed at your request). The court clerk will fill out a summons, which will tell the defendant the date and time that your complaint will be heard by the court. S/he will give you copies of the complaint and summons. Take two copies of each to the police department or sheriff’s office, along with the service information sheet for service on the defendant.
1 ME ST T. 19-A § 4006(1)
2 ME ST T. 19-A § 4006(7)
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 4 - The final hearing
You must go to this hearing if you want to get a final PFA order. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will be dismissed. If the abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you a PFA order or the judge may adjourn the case to another date. Note: If the defendant was not served by the hearing date, you must still go to court at the scheduled time. The judge will postpone the hearing and set a new date. This might happen a few times until the defendant is served.
You may wish to hire a lawyer to help with your case, especially if the abuser has a lawyer. If the abuser shows up with a lawyer, you can ask the judge for a “continuance” (a later court date) so that you have time to find a lawyer. Go to ME Finding a Lawyer page under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page. You may also wish to have a domestic violence advocate accompany you to court for support. To find a program in your area, go to our ME Advocates and Shelters page.
See the At the Hearing section under the Preparing for Court tab at the top of this page for ways you can show the judge that you were abused and for tips on representing yourself in court, pro se. You can learn more about the court system in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section.