Articles Posted in Protective Orders

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Baltimore will soon be the home to a supervised visitation center according to CBS Baltimore’s report on November 27, 2012. The Safe Havens center will allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, dating violence or child abuse to have parent-child contact in the presence of a third-party supervisor. The opening of the Center is critical as many courts in the area have recently had to close their supervised visitation centers due to lack of funding. The center may be useful to Judges in awarding visitation with a minor child under a protective order to an alleged abuser. As we have previously explained when entering a protective order, a Judge has the authority to establish temporary visitation with a minor child of the alleged abuser and a person eligible for relief on a basis which gives primary consideration to the welfare of the minor child and the safety of any other person eligible for relief.
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As we have previously stated the new same sex marriage law will not only allow those in same sex relationship to now marry, but also to divorce, and will affect many other areas of family law. While those in same sex relationships may have been able to obtain a protective order previously, there may be some changes to the process for them.

A protective order can be awarded to only specified individuals, termed “persons eligible for relief.” To be a person eligible for relief one must be: the current or former spouse of the respondent; a cohabitant of the respondent; a relative of the respondent by blood, marriage or adoption; or a parent, stepparent, child or stepchild of the respondent or the person eligible for relief who resides or resided with the respondent or person eligible for relief for at least 90 days within 1 year before the filing of the petition Maryland Code, Family Law 4-501. While the same-sex couples did qualify under the cohabitant category previously, they, along with all others alleging to be cohabitants, had to prove they both had a sexual relationship with the respondent and resided in the same home for at least 90 days within one year of filing the petition. This may have required same sex couples to admit to sodomy, which remains a crime in Maryland. Now, those same sex couples who are married will fall under the current or former spouse category and will no longer have to prove the sexual relationship.

There are three potential stages to obtaining a protective order. First, is the Interim Protective Order, which allows for domestic violence protective orders to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. District Court Commissioners are available at any hour of the day and can issue an interim protective order if there is “reasonable grounds to believe” that the alleged abuser (the Respondent) has abused the person eligible for relief. This protective order lasts for up to 48 hours after the courts re-open, after which the individual seeking protection (the Petitioner) must seek a temporary protective order to extend the interim order.
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As a family law practitioner I have represented a number of petitioners and respondents in protective order hearings throughout the state of Maryland. Unfortunately, the purpose and intent of a protective order is often misinterpreted and misused by the litigants. The purpose of the domestic violence statute as defined by Maryland case law is to protect and aid victims of domestic violence by providing a quick and effective remedy and to prevent further harm to the victim. It is not intended to produce pendente lite orders relating to custody, support, and marital property that are effective for the duration of the Protective Order. Oftentimes, Petitioners attempt to use this necessary and important statute to do just what it was not meant to do – obtain custody of a child in common with the respondent.

I recently represented a respondent in a Final Protective Order hearing , in which the petitioner used the staute to attept to gain custody of their chid. In that case the petitioner alleged an assault upon him by the respondent that resulted in their infant child being bounced off the bed, where she was laying at the time, and landing on the floor. The police were called to the residence three times over the course of less than 24 hours and no one was arrested or left the residence. Ironically, the respondent fled the state the next day with the assistance of a domestic violence program due to continuing abuse by the petitioner upon her. Nevertheless, the petitioner filed a Temporary Protective Order, which was granted and awarded him custody of the parties infant child. My client was already out of the state (with the child) and once she was served with the Order did appear for the Final Protective Order Hearing. Once the Petitioner put on his case, the evidence in my opinion, was abundantly clear that even in the light most favorable to the petitioner, that there had been at most a mutual scuffle which was instigated by the petitioner and that petitioner’s only motivation in filing the protective order was to obtain custody of the child. This is a complete misuse of the domestic violence statute, i.e. protective order statute. At the conclusion of the petitioner’s case I made a Motion to Dismiss the Petitioner’s Protective Order as he had not met his burden of proof establishing by clear and convincing evidence that abuse had occurred. The Court agreed that even in the light most favorable to the petitioner, he had not met his burden and dismissed the Protective Order without the need for my client to put on her case. In this particular situation, the Court was keenly aware of the purpose and intent of the domestic violence statute and did not grant the Final Order.
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The legislation pending to allow same-sex couples to marry is scheduled for a final vote this Friday, March 11, 2011 in the Maryland House of Delegates as reported by the Baltimore Sun. The legislation has already passed the Maryland Senate and the House Judiciary Committee. The passage of the bill, if signed by the Governor, would allow same-sex couples to marry in the State of Maryland. The passage of this bill would not afford same-sex couples who chose to marry more rights than those of their heterosexual counterparts. The bill would solely extend the civil protections already afforded to married couples to same-sex couples who chose to marry.

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The same sex marriage bill passed at the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, March 4, 2011 by a 12-10 vote as the Baltimore Sun reports. This means that the bill will move to the full House of Delegates for debate, which is scheduled to start as early as this Tuesday, March 8, 2011. As we previously blogged, on February 25, 2011 the bill if passed into law would allow same sex couples to wed. Delegates who had previously opposed the bill have expressed that they will vote to pass the bill as they believe it should ultimately be up to the voters to decide. As the Sun reports, if the bill passes in the House of Delegates, “Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he will sign the legislation if it reaches his desk. Opponents could then gather the roughly 55,000 signatures needed to petition the new law to referendum, where voters in the 2012 presidential election will decide whether to repeal it or leave it on the books.

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As a follow up to our June 30, 2010 and July 8, 2010 blogs on Facebook evidence in Maryland family law proceedings, we have compiled a top five do’s and don’ts for Facebook for parents in the midst of custody litigation.

1. Do disable your Facebook account. If you can’t bring yourself to do it, make your presence on Facebook as minimal as possible, and we mean minimal.

2. Do set your Facebook page to private so only those who are your friends can view your page, and while you are at it do a “spring cleaning” of your friend list, eliminating those who are unnecessary. Friends should only be those who have no connection with your ex or your ex’s family and/or friends. You never know who is viewing/printing information from your account and passing it along.

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Effective October 1, 2010, in the State of Maryland a victim of domestic violence who has obtained a final protective order may terminate a residential lease without penalty. For more information on protective orders, see our August 16, 2009 blog. The tenant is given thirty days to leave the property, and will be responsible for the rent during the thirty day period. This legislation was introduced in an effort to aid victims of domestic violence if a change of housing is necessary. Further, this law creates a rebuttable presumption that the victim has not breached the lease agreement if the landlord attempts to evict the domestic violence victim as a result of the abuser’s behavior. If a tenant does not choose to leave the leased property, they may request that the landlord change the locks. In that event, the tenant will be responsible for the fee.

For more information on domestic violence proceedings contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney.

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The Maryland Daily Record reported on June 28, 2010 that 81% of divorce attorneys have used Facebook as a form of evidence. It is a growing phenomenon in the family law practice and it has occurred in our practice in divorce hearings, custody hearings, and protective order hearings. The statements on a spouse or parent’s Facebook page may be just enough, and appears to have been just enough, to push the Judge in one direction or another in a case. Most Judges may not be aware of the context of a picture or statement on Facebook and with blurry evidentiary rules regarding their admission a picture that is funny to you may appear disturbing to a Judge.

Many may question why a Facebook page would be relevant in a divorce, custody or protective order matter. As explained in our February 28, 2010 blog, a fault based divorce such as adultery requires proof of both the opportunity and disposition for the adulterous relationship to be proven. A Facebook page displaying pictures or words of affection may be the key to proving the disposition element needed for adultery. As explained in our October 23, 2009 blog, in custody proceedings a significant factor that is considered is parental fitness. A Facebook page displaying irresponsible habits of a parent may question the fitness of that parent in caring for their child. As explained in our August 16, 2009 blog, the alleged abuse that is needed to enter a protective order can consist of a threat of serious imminent bodily harm. Such a threat on a Facebook page may be enough for a Judge to enter a protective order.
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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.
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I recently represented a Respondent (the person against whom the protective order has been filed) in a Final Protective Order hearing in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, where the Petitioner alleged that he was placed in fear of serious imminent bodily harm by his wife, the Respondent. When representing the Respondent in such a proceeding it is imperative to know what the other side must prove in order to have a final order granted by the Court and how to gather evidence to refute those allegations. In this case, it was the husband’s burden to prove by clear and convincing evidence the alleged abuse had occurred (see August 16, 2009 blog for specific statutory criteria). By the nature of the protective order process, there often is not enough time in between a client coming in to meet with you to represent them and the Final Hearing date, which can impede obtaining necessary information in a complicated matter. In this situation, although time was an issue, I was able to obtain the 911 calls, the transcript of the Temporary Protective Order hearing, and issue subpoenas to various witnesses, which included friends, family members, police officers, therapists and physicians.

In this particular case, the Husband’s Petition was dismissed at the conclusion of his case after the Court heard argument on my oral Motion for Judgment. Pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-519, when a defendant moves for judgment at the close of the evidence offered by the plaintiff in an action tried by the court, the court may proceed, as the trier of fact, to determine the facts and to render judgment against the plaintiff or may decline to render judgment until the close of all the evidence. When a motion for judgment is made under any other circumstances, the court shall consider all evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion is made. In non-legal jargon, the Court, in my case, concluded that even after looking at all of the evidence presented by the Petitioner/Husband, in the light most favorable to him, there was still not enough evidence to meet the legal standard to enter the Final Protective Order, all before I had to put on a single witness. Albeit, the preparation still paid off in the cross examination of the Petitoner.
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