Legal Program


 The Legal Program is designed to provide victims of domestic violence assistance through the judicial system. The program consists of two components;Advocacy & Accompaniment and Direct Representation. MSCFV’s Legal Advocates provide information and explain options available to victims of domestic violence. If a victim decides to pursue any of their legal options, an advocate can assist with completing applications, court preparation and support throughout the proceedings.

 Advocates make referrals for Direct Representation on behalf of their clients. A panel Attorney provides representation in Protective Order hearings and divorce and custody cases.


Legal Program

What is a Protective Order

 A Protective Order is a civil legal order issued by a state court which requires one person to stop harming another person. All Protective Order laws are state laws, not federal laws, and each state has a different law (also called a statute).

 In general, domestic violence Protective Order laws establish who can file for an order, what protection or relief a person can get from such an order, how the order will be enforced and the length of time that the Protective Order is in effect. Beginning October 1, 2009 in Maryland, a Protective Order can remain in effect for up to two years from the date issued. While there are differences from state to state, all Protective Order statutes permit the court to order the abuser to stop hurting or threatening you, to stay away from you, your home, your workplace or school and stop contacting you. You may ask the court to order that all contact, whether by telephone, notes, mail, fax, e-mail or delivery of flowers or gifts, is prohibited.

 Maryland statutes also allow the Court to order the abuser to pay you temporary support (Emergency Family Maintenance). The Court can also award you sole use of and possession of the family home and vehicle owned by both of you.

Maryland courts order the abuser to turn over any firearms and ammunition he has, and may also order him / her to attend an abusers treatment program or start alcohol or drug abuse counseling.

 The Court may also make decisions about the care and safety for your children. Courts can order the abuser to stay away from and have no contact with your children’s doctors, daycare, school or after-school program, and make temporary custody decisions. The Court can issue visitation, or specify a safe arrangement for transferring the children back and forth between you and the abuser.

 When the abuser does something that the Court has ordered him not to do, or fails to do something the Court ordered him to do, the Protective Order has been violated. When this happens, the victim can ask police, the Court or both, depending on the violation to enforce the order. The police can generally enforce provisions relating to the safety of the victim such as violations of “stay away” and “don’t abuse’. Victims should call the police immediately if an abuser violates these provisions.

 Other violations not easily enforced by the police, such as failure to pay support or attend treatment programs-those are enforced by the Court. If you file a “motion for contempt” explaining how the abuser violated the order, the Court will hold a hearing to determine if the facts prove that the abuser violated the order. If the Court finds a violation did occur, it will determine a penalty. Depending on the nature of the violation, the penalty may be a finding of civil or criminal contempt, which could result in a fine, jail time or both. In some cases, it may result in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction and punishment.

      Who is Eligible

  • Current and former spouses.

  • Cohabitants for 90 Days (does not have to be consecutive)

  • A person related to the abuser by blood, marriage, or adoption.

  • A parent, stepparent, or stepchild (under certain circumstances).

  • Vulnerable adults.

  • A person who has a child with the abuser.

     How is Abuse Defined in Maryland

  • An act that causes serious bodily harm.

  • An act that places the victim in fear of imminent serious bodily harm.

  • Assault.

  • Rape or sexual offense.

  • False imprisonment.

  • Stalking.

Types of Protective Orders:

 Interim Protective Order

In Maryland, victims of domestic violence can get legal protection even when the courts are closed. The District Court Commissioners can issue an Interim Protective Order and Interim Peace Orders on weekends, holidays or at night. Interim Protective Orders last until a judge holds a court hearing on the petition for the protective order (usually within 48 hours).

  Protective Orders

Victims of domestic violence may petition for a Temporary Protective Order (TPO). If the judge grants your petition the TPO can last until a hearing can be scheduled (usually 7 days). They may be extended by the judge if needed for up to 30 days. A Law Enforcement Officer must serve the abuser in person with the Temporary Protective Order and notice of the hearing date for the Final Protective Order.

  Final Protective Orders

After a hearing in the District or Circuit Court, a Final Protective Order, effective for up to twelve months may be granted if the judge decides that there is sufficient evidence of abuse. A judge can extend the term of the order, however extensions are usually not more than twelve months (beginning Orctober 1, 2009). The Final Protective Order may contain the same remedies provided in the Temporary Protective Order, or the conditions may be modified.

How Can A Protective Order Help You

A Protective Order can do more than protect you and your children. It may:

  • Order the abuser not to assault, threaten, abuse, follow, harass, or interfere with you and your children in person, at work, on the telephone, or by other means; Order the abuser to stay away from any place you request including your school, your children’s school, your work place, your friends’ homes, family members homes or any place where you are seeking shelter;

  • Allow you to live in the home where you and your abuser have lived together and order the abuser to move out and not return;Give you possession of personal property including a car, except for the abuser’s personal property; 

  • Give you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation; Award Emergency Family Maintenance if your abuser has a duty to support you. This includes an immediate and continuing withholding order on all earnings of the abuser in the amount of the ordered Emergency Family Maintenance in accordance with the procedures specified by Maryland state law;

  • Order the abuser to attend an abuser’s treatment program.  Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of the case.  You do not need a lawyer to file for a Protective Order, but it may be better to have one. If your abuser has a lawyer, you should try to get one too. Even if your abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact MSCFV to obtain a lawyer or a lawyer directly yourself to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

  • Allow you to live in the home where you and your abuser have lived together and order the abuser to move out and not return;Give you possession of personal property including a car, except for the abuser’s personal property;

  • Give you temporary custody of a minor child, order the abuser to pay temporary child support, and establish temporary visitation;

  • Award Emergency Family Maintenance if your abuser has a duty to support you. This includes an immediate and continuing withholding order on all earnings of the abuser in the amount of the ordered Emergency Family Maintenance in accordance with the procedures specified by Maryland state law;

  • Order the abuser to attend an abuser’s treatment program.

Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of the case.

You do not need a lawyer to file for a Protective Order, but it may be better to have one. If your abuser has a lawyer, you should try to get one too. Even if your abuser does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact MSCFV to obtain a lawyer or a lawyer directly yourself to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

 The Final Protective Order

You must go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your Temporary Protective Order will expire and you will have to start the process over. (If you do not show up for the hearing, it may be held against you if you file for an order in the future). If you cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the judge’s office and ask that your case be “continued”, but the judge may deny your request.  If your abuser does not show up for the hearing, the judge may enter a default order, granting you what you requested in the petition. The judge may also decide to postpone the date of the hearing in order to be able to hear testimony from your abuser. If the judge postpones the hearing (a continuance), then be sure to ask to have your Temporary Protective Order extended until that time.

 Commonly Asked Questions

 1. How do I prepare for my hearing?

 If your case is contested you will need to call witnesses to testify to information favourable to your case. You do not need more than one witness to testify to the same facts. Make sure to speak to your witnesses prior to the hearing and prepare them for the questions you will be asking. Never ask a witness in court a question you do not know the answer to. Witnesses MUST come to court. Do not bring letter or other statements from witnesses.  Is it possible to observe a hearing before I go to court?

Yes, most hearings are open and you can take a seat in the courtroom and observe other cases.

2. What else can I do to prepare?

 Prepare what you are going to say in court ahead of time. Write down any issues that have been agreed upon. These issues can be presented to the court at the beginning of the case. The master/judge will only have to hear and decide matters relating to the issues that you have not been able to resolve. Write down what you need to have the master/judge hear and see in order to rule in your favor. First, what is it that you are asking for? What are your reasons for asking for this? Who are the people who can testify in support of those reasons? What documents or things support those reasons and who can testify that those documents or things are what you say they are? (For example, pay stubs can be introduced as evidence of how much an individual earns). Once you have decided these things, make an outline of the order you will present your evidence and what each fact is going to help the master/judge decide. Write out the questions that you are going to ask your witnesses.

 3. What do I do on the day of the hearing?

 On the day your case is scheduled, make sure you are there early. Often you will need to check in with the court personnel in the courtroom. If you are not there when your case is called, your case could be dismissed by the Court. Therefore, if you need to leave the courtroom even for a brief time, notify the clerk that you are leaving. If you cannot attend on the scheduled hearing day, tell the court in writing well in advance of your court date and ask for a continuance.

4. Do I bring anything to the hearing?

 Bring all documents that have been filed or received to date. Have them arranged in chronological order, according to date, or in a sequence that makes sense to you, so that you can easily find any document to which you may need to refer. Also, bring your marriage certificate to the hearing.

 5. What if there has been domestic violence in my case?

 If there has been a history of domestic violence in your case, and if there is a concern about physical danger from the other party, notify the clerk and request a separate waiting area. You may also want to bring along a family member or advocate to support you during the hearing.

 6. Should I make an opening statements?

 Both parties will be given the option of an opening statement. If you choose to present an opening statement, be as brief as possible-a few sentences. Some masters/judges will swear the parties in as soon as the hearing starts, and others when it is time to give your testimony.

 7. What happens next?

 After the opening statements, the Petitioner/Plaintiff (person who started the case) presents his/her case first by calling witnesses to testify and submitting evidence. The Respondent/Defendant presents his/her case next. The Petitioner/Plaintiff has the final response. You will have the opportunity to question, or cross-examine, the other party’s witnesses, and the other party will have the same opportunity. There will then be the opportunity to re-direct questions to clarify any testimony given on cross-examination. Only ask questions, do not testify yourself.

 8. How does the hearing conclude?

 After the parties have presented all of the witnesses and evidence, each will be allowed to make a closing statement. This should only be a few sentences summarizing what you think your case has shown and what you are asking for.

 9. When will I receive my decision from the Court?

 Not all court decisions are issued at the time of the hearing. In devorce and / or custody cases you should hear from the Court in writing within the month after you appear. In cases of a Protective Order hearing, you will be told the decision that day.

 Other things to remember when you are appearing in court.


If you object to a witness, question or evidence, stand up and say “Objection” and the reason for your objection, such as irrelevant, hearsay etc. Speak loudly and clearly and do not interrupt while another person is speaking.


Appropriate courtroom attire is a dress or nice pants for women and long pants and a dress shirt for men. It is inappropriate to wear shorts, tank tops, t-shirts (especially ones with offensive messages) and caps, and to chew gum. Do not bring children to court. Do not bring cell phones or pagers to court.


If you have failed to file a document properly or otherwise not complied with the Rules of Procedure or Statutes, the hearing may be postponed. You should consult an attorney to assist you at this point.

 (Prepared by: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service Court House Advice Clinics)

The Police and Criminal Court System

 In case of an emergencyDial 9-1-1 if you are in an emergency. The police can help you get to a safe place and obtain medical treatment, if necessary. Once you are out of immediate danger, call our hotline (1-800-927-4673)

 Probable Cause Arrest

 Probable Cause is a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime. The test the court of appeals employs to determine whether probable cause existed for purposes of arrest is whether facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge are sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe a suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. U.S. v. Puerta, 982 F.2d 1297, 1300

(9th Cir. 1992)

 A police officer without a warrant may arrest a person if:     

 1) the police officer has a probable cause to believe that

      a) the person battered the person’s spouse or another                       person with whom the person resides:

      b) there is evidence of physical injury; and

      c) unless the person is arrested immediately , the person

            i) may not be apprehended;

            ii) may cause physical injury or property damage to                           another;                   or

            iii) may temper with, dispose of, or destroy evidence

2) a report to the police was made within 48 hours of the alleged incident.

 If the police officer has probable cause to believe that mutual battery occurred and arrest is necessary under the subsection (above), the police officer shall consider whether one of the persons acted in self-defense when determining whether to arrest the person whom the police officer believes to be primary aggressor (Criminal Procedure Article §2-204)

 Bail Conditions

 The abuser will be released from jail as soon as he/she makes bail. Let the police know of the abuser’s history of domestic violence. The Court Commissioner considers this information when setting bail.

 Criminal Court Proceedings

 If the abuser is found guilty or pleads guilty, the sentence could include a fine, jail time, court-mandated counselling, or a combination of these things.

 Vine Offender Information Program

 You can receive a free notification call when your abuser is released from jail. To register call 1-866-634-8463


Caroline County


Dorchester County


Kent County


Queen Anne’s County


Talbot County



Queen Anne’s County

Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court, 100 Courthouse Square, Centreville, MD 21617

Tel. (410) 758-1773

Queen Anne’s County District Court, 120 Broadway Street, Centreville, MD 21617

Tel. (410) 819-4000

Talbot County

Talbot County Circuit Court, 11 North Washington Street,

Easton, MD 21601

Tel. (410) 822-2611

Talbot County District Court, 108 West Dover Street,

Easton, MD 21601

Tel. (410) 819-5850

Caroline County

Caroline County Circuit Court, 109 Market Street,

Denton, MD 21629

Tel. (410) 479-1811

Caroline County District Court, 207 South Third Street,

Denton, MD 21629

Tel. (410) 819-4600

Kent County

Kent County Circuit Court, 103 North Cross Street,

Chestertown, MD 21620

Tel. (410) 778-7460

Kent County District Court, 103 North Cross Street,

Chestertown, MD 21620

Tel. (410) 810-3360

Dorchester County

Dorchester County Circuit Court, 206 High Street,

Cambridge, MD 21613

Tel. (410) 228-0481

Dorchester County District Court, 310 Gay Street,

Cambridge, MD 21613

Tel. (410) 901-1420


Women’s Law

Court Forms

Peoples Law Library

The Civil Court System


 Going to Family Court with Your Children?

 Children can be confused or upset about going to court. The Family Services Program of the Administrative Office of the Courts has developed a free booklet called, “My Day at Court Guide and Activity Book for Kids Going to Court in Maryland”. The book contains stickers, pages to color and clear explanations of the people, words and work of the courts. Ask the Court for a copy.

 How to Dress for Court

  • Do dress as you would for an important event.

  • Don’t wear t-shirts with messages.

  • Don’t dress down to gain sympathy.

  • Don’t chew gum.


Your Courtroom Behavior

  • Do exercise self control, no matter what is said in the courtroom.

  • Do be on time for court.

  • Don’t react to the answers of witnesses to the questions from the opposing attorney to indicate your displeasure.

  • Don’t argue with the opposing party or his/her attorney.

When you are Testifying

  • Do listen to the entire question being asked before you answer.

  • Do ask the questioner to repeat or clarify any questions that you do not understand.

  • Do direct your answers to the person who asked the question. Make eye contact with that person.

  • Do answer with only “yes” or “no” when you can.

  • Do answer questions that seem stupid or foolish to you. It is your attorney’s job to object to improper questions.

  • Don’t mumble. Speak loudly enough to be heard by the judge, the court reporter, the opposing side, the jury.

  • Don’t memorize answers. It will show and others may not believe you. You may forget what you planned to say.

  • Don’t lie about anything, not even white (small) lies. If you are discovered to be lying, the judge may find it hard to believe you when you are telling the truth.

  • Don’t feel the need to explain every answer. “What I mean when I say that” may sound like you are trying to hide something.

  • Don’t argue with the questioner.

  • Don’t ask questions back: “what would you do if”

  • Don’t give flippant answers.

  • Don’t assume that the lawyer has a hidden motive for every question.


When your attorney objects to a question, wait until the judge makes a decision.

Only answer the questions if the objection is overruled or if the judge asks you to answer the question.

 If the objection is “sustained”, do not answer the questions.


 Your attorney is there to help and support you. Attorneys are bound by ethical rules and all information you tell them must be kept confidential. It is in your best interest to be as specific as possible with your attorney. If you think you may not feel comfortable verbally informing your attorney about specific acts, you can put them in writing.

 Detail ALL incidents of abuse and try to be as specific as possible.

  • Dates of abuse.

  • Places where the abuse occurred : i.e. in your home (what room) or in public (give street name).

  • Types of Abuse: i.e. threats, hitting, punching, pushing, shoving, biting, or forced sex acts.

  • Objects used: i.e. knives, guns, furniture, etc.

  • Inform your attorney about any possible witnesses: give your attorney the names of any possible witnesses.

  • Do you have any pictures that show any injuries that were a result of abuse?

  • Did you ever seek medical attention?

  • Which hospital did you go to?

  • Did the hospital treat you for any injuries?

  • Did you ever call the police?

  • Did the police respond?

  • Was a report written?

  • Was your abuser arrested?


State whether or not you are receiving any type of benefits from the state (i.e. welfare, temporary cash assistance, etc.)

Do you have children?

Is there a custody order in place?

(Just because your child resides with you does not mean you have legal custody, both parents always have rights)

Are your children safe?

Inform your attorney of the names, ages, addresses and, school addresses of your children.

If your abuser wants visitation, inform your attorney that you would like the exchange to take place at a neutral setting. (Police Stations or Courthouses are sometimes an option).

Inform your attorney whether or not you want supervised visitation.

Inform your attorney whether or not you are receiving child support from your abuser.

Inform your attorney whether or not your abuser is paying health insurance for your children.

Keep your Address Confidential.

Inform your attorney that you do not want your current address listed on any documents that your abuser may receive or view.

It’s Your Case

Remember to ask your attorney questions. You should advise your attorney of any other information that you think may be important.

REMEMBER to bring ALL court documents.

It is important to bring any and all documents that relate to a case you have in court (i.e. protective order, child custody order, or child support order).

( Information obtained from PLL