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Alleged Violations of Protective Orders in Maryland: Criminal and Civil Consequences

If the respondent (alleged abuser) in a protective order proceeding has a protective order entered against them, what are the petitioner’s (alleged victim of abuse) options if the respondent violates the order? A violation of the protective order is any action the respondent takes that violates the provisions the judge ordered at the time of the hearing (no contact, no abuse, no harassment, emergency family maintenance, drug/alcohol/anger counseling). This violation can occur in an interim, temporary or final protective order situation (see August 16, 2009 blog for more information on types of protective orders).

Although the protective order is civil in nature, the violations of certain safety provisions of the order are considered criminal violations. If the respondent violates the provisions of the protective order that order no contact, no harassment, no abuse, the petitioner has the option of calling the police, or filing charges on their own. If the police witness the violation or have enough evidence to believe the violation occurred, they have the authority to arrest the respondent. The petitioner also has the option of filing criminal charges with the commissioner. A conviction for a violation of a protective order can result in imprisonment and/or fining of the respondent. Specifically, for a first offense, a fine is not to exceed $1,000.00 and imprisonment is not to exceed 90 days, and for a second or subsequent offense, a fine is not to exceed $2,500.00 and imprisonment is not to exceed one year.

If the respondent violates the provisions of the protective that are more civil in nature such as provisions ordering emergency family maintenance, child custody or access issues, or to attend counseling then this violation is civil in nature, although the safety provisions can also be civil violations. Therefore, the petitioner may file a petition for contempt with the court. Maryland Code, Family Law § 4-508

Oftentimes, the respondent asks what he or she can do, if the petitioner is violating the order by calling, e-mailing or otherwise contacting them? The petitioner is not violating the order because the order is not reciprocal in nature and it is not entered against the petitioner. The order is directing the behavior and conduct of the respondent, not vice versa. In these situations, the best advice to the respondent is not to respond to petitioner by phone, text, e-mail or otherwise, because the respondent’s response is a violation of the protective order if there is a no contact component to the order. To best protect yourself as a respondent, avoid the petitioner by all means necessary even if they are initiating contact. If the petitioner continues to attempt to contact the respondent, the respondent may want to consider filing a Motion with the Court to rescind the protective order.

If you are facing a protective order violation or contemplating filing a violation an experienced family law attorney will be able to assist you.