Violence is often an issue in divorce cases. Whether the problem is ongoing, or it is triggered by the initiation of divorce proceedings, spouses find themselves in fear for their safety and looking for a solution. In Maryland, a Civil Protective Order (CPO) can be obtained to shield a person from their abusive spouse. If issued, a CPO can dramatically alter the course of divorce proceedings, so it is important to understand the process, options and implications of a CPO.
The CPO Process
There are multiple steps to obtaining a CPO. A victim of domestic violence, conscious of an immediate, appropriate need begins by filing a petition for a Temporary Protective Order (TPO) with the Maryland District Court in the county where the divorce is pending. If applying after court hours, a person can file for an Interim Protective Order with the District Court Commissioners Office, which is immediately effective but will be promptly reviewed by a judge to determine whether to issue a TPO, which is usually granted. A TPO can address issues including, but not limited to:
- Ordering the abuser to stop the abuse;
- Ordering the abuser to stay away from locations such as home, work and school;
- Ordering the abuser to leave the marital home; or
- Awarding temporary custody of children and family pet.
As part of TPO, the judge will set a hearing within 7-10 days to determine whether to issue a CPO. The TPO is effective immediately, and it will remain in effect until the hearing on the CPO. Law enforcement will serve the TPO on the abuser.
At the hearing on the CPO, the judge can issue an order that lasts up to one year. To qualify for that order, the victim has to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the abuse occurred and there is a need for the relief being sought. The petitioner is required to attend this hearing for it to become a CPO, and the abuser has the right to attend to present evidence or enter a consent order. Without a consent order, the judge will examine evidence in the form of testimony of both the parties, police reports, photographs, threatening communications, and witness testimony. The CPO can last for up to a year, and in addition to the forms of relief available in a TPO, a CPO can include an order for financial support, possession of a jointly owned vehicle, and other relief the Court may deem appropriate to the situation.
Considerations and Consequences
Before pursuing a CPO, some thought should be given to possible consequences. Both the TPO and the CPO provide for heightened awareness by the police of issues regarding the parties and the street address to facilitate immediate requests for police involvement. Any violations of either order are the basis for criminal charges independent of the initial basis for the orders. For some people, the driving force behind the petition is an event that occurred well before the petition is filed. A victim’s fear may be legitimate, but a judge may question the need for a CPO if there is no evidence of abuse in the recent past. Similarly, if an alleged perpetrator fails to respond to the court summons for the hearing on the CPO, and it is granted, the order may set the stage for a final divorce decree that is distinctly favorable to the victim in terms of support, custody, and division or use of assets.
Even if the alleged abuser appears, when a person becomes subject to a CPO, it may alter the outcome of divorce proceedings. A person subject to a CPO now has a record that is shared with law enforcement, including ICE, which may impact the ability of the person subject to the protective order to return to the country after leaving if they are not a US citizen. While no victim should have to live in fear, pursuing a CPO can make the divorce much more contentious. This translates into expense, increased hostility, and possibly a prolonged process. Because of this effect, if a divorce has already been filed and both sides have retained counsel, it is advisable to consider the option of entering into an agreement that can be approved by the Court as a Consent Order that doesn’t create a record of determination of abuse but provides the protection of a CPO. (i.e. there is no admission of abuse).
Are you considering a divorce where there are issues of abuse? Confer with counsel to decide the best way to proceed. Contact Barkley & Kennedy
If you are in fear of imminent danger and you need assistance, contact the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence for help in your location.
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