What are the steps involved with obtaining a protection from harassment order?
The steps for obtaining a protection from harassment order will be similar to the steps for obtaining a protection from abuse order but you will fill out different forms. One major difference, however, is that in limited circumstances, you may have to first get law enforcement to issue a notice to stop the harassment against the harasser.1 See Under what circumstances would I need to request that law enforcement issue a notice to stop the harassment before applying for an order? for more information.
You must file in the district court of the division where either you or the harasser lives. If you have left your home to avoid harassment, you can file in the division where you used to live or where you live now.2 If you have left home to avoid harassment and want to keep your address confidential, filing in your new division may not be a good idea.
If your district court judge is not available or the courthouse is closed and you need an temporary order immediately, you can go to any other district court or to a superior court judge.3 The courts of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation also hear protection from harassment cases.4
How will the harasser be notified about the protection from harassment order?
Once you file for a protection from harassment order, the clerk will schedule a date and time for a hearing. In the meantime, you must have the summons and complaint forms “served” on the defendant (your harasser) as well as the temporary (ex parte) protection order if you get one. The hearing cannot be held until the defendant has been served and the temporary order is not valid until the harasser is served with it.
The clerk will likely forward the papers to the sheriff for service, especially if you get a temporary (ex parte) protection order and the defendant lives in Maine. However, be sure to check with the clerk about this. If the defendant resides outside the state of Maine, you may want to ask the clerk for help in arranging service of the complaint and related forms on the defendant in the state where s/he lives.
If you have to arrange for service yourself, you would take a copy of the complaint and the original and one copy of the summons to the sheriff’s department, likely in the county where the defendant lives. Ask the clerk which forms you have to bring to the sheriff if you are not sure. We have a list of sheriffs on our Maine Sheriff Departments page.
The hearing will not be held until the “Return of Service” on the back of the original summons form is filled out and filed with the court to prove that the defendant has been served. If you took the papers to the sheriff for service, you need to get the completed summons back from the sheriff’s office after he is served. The sheriff should fill out the form with details about when and where the sheriff served the defendant. File it in the clerk’s office immediately.
If the clerk has sent the papers out for service, check with the clerk’s office before the hearing to find out if the sheriff’s office has sent the “Return of Service” (summons) back to the court. If you are still waiting for the forms to be returned on the hearing date, you can explain this to the judge and ask for a new hearing date. This will give you and the sheriff some more time to get the complaint and summons served on the defendant.1
1 See Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s Protection from Harassment page
What can I expect when I return to court for the hearing?
The judge may hold what is called a “case management conference,” which is a meeting between you, your harasser and the judge. If you or the harasser has a lawyer, the lawyers may also attend. This meeting is not a trial and, therefore, witnesses do not attend at this stage. Generally, the purpose of a case management conference is for the judge to see if both parties are willing to settle the case (i.e., the harasser consents to you having a final protection order) and to plan for the trial if the case cannot be settled.
The judge may also require that you and your harasser try mediation or some other out-of-court process to see if you can settle your issues without a full court hearing.1
If you and the harasser can agree to the terms of an order, this is called a “consent agreement” and you can get a protection order issued without going to trial. 2 The judge will usually approve whatever terms you both agree upon and make it into a court order.1
If you cannot agree to the terms of an order, the court will hold a hearing following formal rules of evidence and procedure. At the hearing you must explain to the judge under oath what happened. You will want to describe each event of harassment to the best of your memory, what your harasser did and said, what emotions s/he was displaying, and how you felt and responded. You can also bring witnesses who saw or heard the harassment. The judge will listen to your story and the defendant’s story and make a decision. It is generally best to have a lawyer at a hearing, especially if the harasser has one.
If the defendant does not show up for the hearing and you have proof that he was served (the “Return of Service” form) some judges will still ask you to tell your story briefly under oath before granting you a final protection from harassment order.1 You might hear this type of one-sided hearing referred to as an “inquest.”
1 See Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s “Protection from Harassment”
2 5 M.R.S.A. § 4655(1)
What is the difference between an order granted after a hearing and a consent order?
The main difference between the two orders is that an order that is granted after a hearing is granted after the judge has heard all of the evidence presented by you and by the harasser and the judge has decided that you were, indeed, harassed. The judge will make what is called a “finding” of harassment. A consent order is issued without a hearing and without any “finding” of wrongdoing by the harasser. The harasser would agree to you having an order against him/her and you would both agree on what terms will be in the order.
Consent orders can include all the protection that an order issued after a contested hearing would provide. Violation of a consent order can be prosecuted just as a violation of an order issued after hearing would be. However, before giving up the right to a hearing, you should make sure that a consent order has enough protection and other relief since the harasser may try to leave out of the order certain protections that you can get in an order after a hearing.
Once you both appear in court, the judge may right away ask you and the harasser whether you are willing to consider a protection order by consent or agreement, instead of having a contested hearing. Consent orders are often worked out by the judge speaking to the parties, or through the parties’ lawyers.
Can I keep my address confidential?
To keep your address confidential, you would fill out an Affidavit for Confidential Address form that explains why the health or safety of you or your child will be in danger if your personal information is given to the harasser. You can ask the court clerk for the form or get an online form from Pine Tree Legal Assistance. The court may only release this information to the other party or the public if, after a hearing, a judge decides that revealing the information is the fair thing to do.1
How much will it cost to file for a protection from harassment order?
There is a fee to file a complaint for a protection from harassment order unless the harassment case involves an allegation of stalking, sexual assault, or domestic or dating violence – in that case, there would be no fee. If you cannot afford the filing fee and service fee, ask the clerk for a “Motion to Proceed Without Payment of Fees” form, in which you would give financial information about your income.1 You can find forms and information for fee waivers on the Pine Tree Legal Assistance website. The judge would evaluate your financial situation and decide whether s/he believes you can afford the filing fee. Call the clerk of court in your county if you have any questions. Go to our Maine Courthouse Locations page for contact information.
Note: You may also be responsible for the cost for service on the harasser unless the court has waived the fee. If the judge has waived the fees, the court will pay the service fee – you will not have to pay the sheriff to serve the forms on the harasser. You will want to ask the clerk’s office if they will send the papers to the sheriff’s department for service. If not, you will have to arrange for service yourself and take a copy of the fee waiver order with you to show the sheriff’s office that you should not be billed for the service fee.2
1 See A Guide to Protection from Abuse and Harassment Cases on the Maine Courts website
2 See Pine Tree Legal Assistance’s Protection from Harassment page
Do I need a lawyer to file for a protection from harassment order?
You do not need a lawyer to file for a protection from harassment order. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the harasser has a lawyer or if there are complicated issues in your case. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to find free or low-cost legal help on the Maine Finding a Lawyer page.
If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section may be useful to you.