If you are a victim of domestic violence, there are laws that can help you be safe.

The Women’s Law Center will help you use these laws by providing a free attorney to represent you.

Protection Order Advocacy and Representation Project (POARP)

Provides you with a free lawyer if you are a victim and your protective order case is in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County courts.

More About POARP Project

Multi-Ethnic Domestic Violence Project (MEDOVI)

Provides a free lawyer to help you with immigration issues if you are foreign-born and a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.

More About MEDOVI Project

Collateral Legal Assistance for Survivors (CLAS) Project

Represents existing clients and new clients who are victims of domestic violence in collateral legal issues including custody, divorce, landlord/tenant matters, and more.

More About CLAS Project

General Information on Domestic Violence

Domestic violence can be a crime, but many victims feel that their spouse or partner has the right to abuse them or that they must live with violence. The first step in confronting an abusive relationship is to recognize that such violence is unacceptable.

Domestic violence consists of a wide range of behaviors, some of which are criminal and all of which are unacceptable. Some behaviors, while not physical and therefore not criminal, are part of an abuser’s controlling behavior. Abusive actions that are not physically violent may include: making degrading comments, controlling access to family/friend resources, and controlling a victim’s time and activities. These abusive behaviors can accompany physical violence or lead to it.

Physical “abuse” includes pushing, hitting, punching, strangling, biting, unwanted sexual acts, and other forms of “assault,” a legal term for an unwelcome physical contact that involves some injury or offensive touching. It also includes verbal threats of physical abuse, made with the apparent ability to carry out the threats.

Starting to Get Help

Does your partner…

  • Control or try to control your money?
  • Check up on you to see where you are, what you are doing, when you will be home?
  • Call, text, email friends/family to see where you are?
  • Get jealous easily?
  • Try to manipulate or control your decisions/actions?
  • Get angry when you want to spend time with friends/family or insist on always accompanying you out?
  • Embarrass you in public?
  • Degrade you and tell you that you are nothing without him/her?
  • Damage your home or possessions?
  • Send excessive text messages or emails to you, especially after you ask him or her to stop?
  • Harm/threaten to harm your pets?
  • Force you to have sexual intimacy?
  • Prevent you from calling for help during arguments?
  • Prevent you from leaving the home during or after arguments?
  • Check your phone, computer or other electronic device to see what you are up to?

If so, contact your local domestic violence service provider for more information.

Leaving an abuser can be dangerous. Consider taking these precautions:

  • Call a domestic violence hotline for advice. Make the call at a safe time — when the abuser isn’t around — or from a friend’s house or other safe location.
  • Pack an emergency bag that includes items you’ll need when you leave, such as extra clothes and keys. Leave the bag in a safe place. Keep important personal papers, money and prescription medications handy so that you can take them with you on short notice.
  • Know exactly where you’ll go and how you’ll get there.

Protective Orders

The Women’s Law Center of Maryland operates the Protection Order Advocacy and Representation Projects (POARP) in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Carroll County.

Victims of intimate partner domestic violence may seek protection from their abusers by filing a Petition for Protection from Domestic Violence at any Circuit or District Court in the State of Maryland.

For assistance in filing a Petition in Baltimore City, victims should go to Room 100 of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, 111 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202; in Baltimore County, to the Civil & Family Clerk located on the Second Floor of the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, 401 Bosley Avenue, Towson, MD 21204; or, in Carroll County, to Room 208 of the Carroll County Circuit Court, 55 N. Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157. Assistance may also be available in other courthouses throughout the state.

If the Court finds that you are eligible for protection and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Abuser/Respondent caused serious bodily harm or placed you in fear of imminent serious bodily harm, a Temporary Protective Order will be issued and a Final Protective Order hearing will be scheduled for the following week. The Temporary Protective Order is not effective until it is served on the Respondent by local law enforcement. A Temporary Protective Order may be extended for up to 6 months “for good cause.” If the Respondent has not been served and you are still in fear for your safety after the 6 month expiration, you may re-file your Petition.

You may obtain a protective order only if you are:

  • The current or former spouse of the abuser;
  • A person who has had a sexual relationship with the abuser and lived with the abuser for at least 90 days within the past year;
  • Related to the abuser by blood, marriage, or adoption;
  • A parent, stepparent, child, or stepchild of the abuser, and have lived with the abuser for at least 90 days within the past year;
  • A physically or mentally disabled adult; or
  • A person who has a child in common with the abuser, regardless of whether you have ever been married or lived with the abuser.

If you do not belong to any of the above categories, but you would like to seek protection from the Courts you may file for a Peace Order in any District Court in Maryland (if you are eligible for a Protective Order, you are not eligible for a Peace Order, and vice-versa).

Peace Orders

If you are not eligible to file for a Protective Order, you can seek protection through the Peace Order process. This process allows individuals such as dating partners, neighbors, or a former friend of an abuser to petition the court for emergency protection. A person may use the Peace Order to protect him or herself from abusers who are stalkers (regardless of whether that abuser is known to the victim) who target another person for harassment or abuse. (If you are eligible for a Protective Order, you are not eligible for a Peace Order, and vice-versa).

In order to obtain a Peace Order, the Petitioner must allege and prove that the person who has abused him or her has committed one of nine specified acts within 30 days before filing of the Peace Order petition. In addition, the Petitioner must prove that the specified act is likely to occur again. Those acts include an act which causes serious bodily harm, or that places the Petitioner in fear of imminent serious bodily harm, assault, rape or sexual offense, false imprisonment, harassment, stalking, trespass, and malicious destruction of property.

A person seeking a Peace Order can apply to the District Court or, if the courts are closed, at the District Court Commissioner’s Office. A Peace Order may be granted for up to 6 months, with the possibility of extending the Order for another 6 months, and can instruct an abuser to stop committing the abusive act, to stay away from the Petitioner, his or her residence, school, and place of employment.

If the court grants a Final Protective Order, the court can grant the Order for up to a year, with the possibility of extending the order for 6 months. In some limited circumstances you may be able to get a two year or a permanent Protective Order (talk to a POARP office about whether you qualify). The Protective Order can instruct the abuser to stop committing the abusive act, to stay away from the Petitioner, his or her residence, school, child care and place of employment, and it can order use and possession of a jointly owned vehicle and payment of emergency family maintenance.

When the courts are closed, you may still obtain temporary protection by filing a Petition for Protection with the District Court Commissioner. A Commissioner may issue an Interim Peace or Protective Order to last until the courthouse reopens and a District Court Judge can hold a Temporary Protective Order hearing. An Interim Protective Order goes into effect once a law enforcement officer serves the Respondent. The Interim Protective Order will instruct you when and where to appear for a Temporary Protective Order hearing. If you do not appear at that time, your Protective Order can be dismissed. If both you and the Respondent appear at the Temporary Protective Order hearing, and agree to do so, you may waive the Temporary Protective Order hearing and proceed with the Final Protective Order hearing. If you decide not to waive the Temporary hearing, the judge may then issue a Temporary Protective Order and set a date and time for the Final hearing, normally 7 days later.

To locate your Court Commissioner, click here.

Most Respondents react in one of two ways when they are served with Interim or Temporary Protective Orders — they either become very mean or they become very nice.

It may be a good idea to stay with someone else until the Final Protective Order hearing. If you must return to your home, and the Respondent has been ordered to vacate that residence, change your locks and have someone else stay with you for a few days. If the Respondent comes to your home or workplace, call 911 immediately. If the Respondent calls you, and you do not have caller ID, hang up and press *57 before you dial 911 (or make any other calls). This will trace the call.

Enforcing the Temporary Protective Order by calling the police for safety reasons sends a strong message to the Respondent. If the Respondent calls you to arrange to pick up his/her things, you can tell him/her to call the police. They should accompany him/her to the home to pick up personal belongings.

Similarly, if you have left the home but need items, call the police who will escort you to the home to retrieve necessary items.

Collect any evidence that you have of present or past abuse to bring to the hearing. This includes photos, medical reports, police reports, and prior Protective Orders. If you have any visible injuries or marks, you should have someone take a photograph of the injuries and print the pictures prior to the hearing. Also take photos and collect evidence regarding any property damage that occurred during an act of domestic violence if you cannot readily bring it to court with you. If anyone has ever seen the abuse or heard the Respondent threaten you, it is very important that you bring him/her to Court to testify. If you are asking for financial support, you should also bring proof of your income and your expenses (and the Respondent’s, if you have it). If you have ever been involved in a custody, child support, or divorce proceeding with the Respondent, bring this information, including any and all court papers, to court with you as well.

While most Respondents obey Protective Orders, you can never be completely certain that the Respondent in your case will abide by the Order. You may need to ask the police and the courts to help enforce your Order. The following are some steps that you can take to make sure that you are safe.

  • Always keep your Order with you. If you change purses, that is the first thing that should go into the new one.
  • Change the locks on your doors even if the Respondent has returned his/her copy of the key. It may also be a good idea to get a security system installed or to install motion detector lighting outside. (You may be eligible for a free security system. Contact POARP for more information.)
  • Keep your doors and windows locked. If you do not have a security system, small inexpensive window and door security devices can be purchased at any home supply store such as Home Depot or Lowes.
  • Change your telephone numbers, including cell phones and beepers, to unlisted numbers.
  • Give a copy of your Order to the police departments in the communities you frequent, including your home, work site, and the homes of close family/friends.
  • Inform the security department at your job about your Order. If possible, provide a photograph of the Respondent to building security. Also supply the front desk/receptionist with a copy of your Order.
  • Change your route to work/school and other routine behavior (such as which grocery store you frequent) of which the Respondent may be aware.
  • Park in well-lit secure parking areas. When returning to your car, visually check underneath the car as well as the front and rear passenger compartments before entering. Keep your doors locked while you are inside the vehicle.
  • Ask a friend, coworker, or security guard to escort you to your car when leaving work/school.
  • Tell your neighbors and landlord that the Respondent no longer lives there, and ask them to call the police if they see him/her near your home.
  • Inform your employer, minister, close friends, family members, childcare providers, and school administrators that you have a Protective Order in effect.
  • If your children are older, make sure they know the visitation schedule. Make sure they always have enough change to make a telephone call and teach them how to make a collect call to you in the event the Respondent takes them for an unscheduled visit and how to dial 911 in the event of an emergency.
  • Make sure your children’s school or day care knows who has permission to pick up your children and when they are to be picked up. Provide the school and day care with emergency contact numbers and a copy of your Order.
  • Always use your intermediary for drop off/pick up of the children, and for communicating with the Respondent about your children. Although it is not advised, if you do agree to meet the Respondent to discuss issues regarding your children, do so in a public place and bring someone else with you. Suggested places for this meeting include a local police department or the security counter at a shopping mall.
  • Utilize a P.O. Box or private mailbox service to receive all mail. Make sure to inform acquaintances, creditors, and the DMV of your address change.
  • If your Protective Order is destroyed or lost, you can obtain another copy from the Clerk’s Office of the court in which you originally obtained the Order. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City (Family Division) Clerk’s Office is located in room 109 of the Circuit Court located at 111 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 (Old Post Office Building). In the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, the Civil & Family Clerk is located on the Second Floor of the Circuit Court, 401 Bosley Avenue, Towson, MD 21204. In Carroll County Circuit Court, the Clerk’s Office is located at 55 N. Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157.

Should the Respondent violate the Order by harassing you, contacting you, threatening you or harming you in any way, contact the police immediately and file charges against him/her for violating the Protective Order. When going to the Commissioner’s Office to file charges, make sure to take a copy of your Order with you.

There are several violations of a Protective Order where it may be more appropriate to file for civil remedies rather than criminal prosecution. These may include violations of the provisions dealing with custody, visitation, and Emergency Family Maintenance. If the Respondent violates the Order by not paying Emergency Family Maintenance as required by the Order, you may file a Petition for Contempt. Blank petition forms are available through the Clerk’s Office. The POARP attorneys can help you with this. The Court will issue a Show Cause Order requesting the Respondent’s appearance in Court on a specific date to explain why he/she should not be held in contempt for failure to make the required payments. The Court will send you a notice of a date and time for a hearing to address your Petition. Keep records of all payments made to you and bring them with you to the hearing.

Modifications of the Final Protective Order

If you need to change any of the terms or conditions in your Protective Order during the time that it is in effect, you may file a Motion to Modify the Protective Order. The POARP attorneys can help you with this. Blank Motion forms are available through the Clerk’s Office. In most cases, the Court will send you a notice of a date and time for a hearing to address your Motion.

The federal law requires jurisdictions (other than the jurisdiction that issued a Protection Order) to enforce your Protection Order even if you have not registered or filed it as may be required by local, state, or tribal law. However, you may want to consider registering or filing your Order when you travel or move out of state. There are some risks and benefits to this, and some are listed below. You may want to talk with a domestic violence advocate who can explain the process and help you decide whether filing or registration is safe for you to do.

Practical Tips on Registration

  • Registration or filing can help law enforcement and courts to verify your order’s existence and may increase the likelihood that it is enforced.
  • You or your advocate/attorney may want to remind the court or law enforcement personnel who handle the filing or registration of your protection order that federal law prohibits enforcing jurisdictions from sending notice to the abuser, unless you request it.
  • Filing or registration can be dangerous in certain situations – for example, where a Protection Order is a “public” record. An abuser can easily go into these public records – especially court records – to locate you.
  • Filing or registration may be impossible or impractical in some circumstances – for example, if your abuser is stalking you across state or tribal lines.
  • Please contact an attorney from POARP for more information.

Law enforcement officers, the courts, and prosecutors are required to enforce your Protection Order the same way they would enforce Orders from their own community. For example, if the police would arrest someone for violation of a locally-issued Order, they would have to do the same with a non-local Order. Also, prosecutors should charge the crime, and judges should hear the case, according to the laws where the violation occurred.
Are there other federal laws that might apply to my case?
Federal law prohibits an abuser subject to a qualifying Protection Order from possessing firearms and ammunitions. Abusers are not banned from possessing guns and ammunitions permanently, only for the time that the order of protection is in existence. Additionally, there may be “official use” exemptions, which allow law enforcement and military personnel who are subject to a Protection Order to possess their service weapon while on duty.

If the Respondent in your case does own a firearm, you should report this to the Domestic Violence Unit of the Baltimore City, Baltimore County or Carroll County Police Department in your district.

It is a federal crime for a person to travel interstate, or leave or enter Indian country with the intent to injure, harass or intimidate an intimate partner when in the course of or as a result of the travel the abuser commits a violent crime that causes serious bodily injury. The abuser must intend to commit the domestic violence at the time of travel. The definition of “partner” is broad and basically includes a person with whom the abuser has cohabitated in an intimate relationship (including a current for former spouse) or a person who has a child in common with the abuser.

It is also a federal crime to cause an intimate partner to cross state lines, or leave or enter tribal territory by force, coercion, duress, or fraud if the abuser intentionally inflicts bodily injury on the partner during or as a result of the conduct.

If you you travel/move outside the state of Maryland, the full faith and credit provision of the Violence Against Women Act says that a valid Protection Order must be enforced everywhere throughout the country. This means that if you get a valid Protection Order, it is good in the community where you received it as well as in all other jurisdictions or places you go in the United States. This includes Protection Orders issued in: all 50 states, Indian tribal lands, the District of Columbia, the United States Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

*Information provided by the National Center on Full Faith and Credit, a project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Filing Criminal Charges

Victims of domestic violence also may file criminal charges against an abuser in addition to filing for protection or in order to enforce a Temporary or Final Protective Order.

1. Call the police:

  • From the location where the incident occurred
  • From your home

2. When the Officer arrives:

  • GET A COMPLAINT NUMBER and the Officer’s name and badge number — insist that the Officer assign a number to the complaint
  • District lines (geographic) are often difficult to determine – make sure to ask the Officer the address of the commissioner’s office in the district where the offense occurred.

3. Take the complaint to the appropriate commissioner’s office. In Baltimore City there is 24-hour coverage at the District Court Commissioner’s Office, 500 N. Calvert Street, (410) 767-5774. In Baltimore County, there is 24-hour coverage at the Catonsville, Essex, and Towson District Courts.You are not required to already have a complaint number in order to file charges. You may report the incident at the same time you file criminal charges. If you have a Temporary or Final Protective Order make sure you take it with you.You will be asked to fill out an application identifying the accused and describing exactly what happened during the incident, including where the offense took place, when it happened, how the accused committed the offense, who witnessed the offense, and why the accused might have intended to commit a crime. If you have a complaint number that was given to you by the responding Officer, you may include it in the application.You will be asked to sign this application and take an oath that the information contained within it is true.

4. From the statement made on the complaint, the commissioner will decide if there is “probable cause” to believe a crime was committed. The commissioner will then make a decision on what charges, if any, will be filed (e.g. harassment, assault, verbal assault, criminal trespassing, violation of Protective Order, etc.).Depending upon the severity of the complaint, the commissioner will decide whether to issue a warrant or a summons. If a warrant is issued, the abuser will be arrested. If a summons is issued, an officer authorized to make the service will serve the summons on the abuser. A summons orders the abuser into court for a hearing or a trial at a later date. There is the potential that an abuser will be successful in dodging the warrant or summons for an indefinite period.

If an arrest is made, the abuser will be taken before a judge for a bail hearing. At that time, the judge will decide whether to release the abuser, perhaps with certain conditions, or to keep him/her in jail until the trial. An abuser will only be detained if the facts show he/she is a danger to the community and/or there is a risk that he/she will not show up at the trial.

6. The State’s Attorney’s Office will handle the prosecution of the abuser. It is not necessary for you to have an attorney for this trial. You may be required, however, to appear at the trial as a witness for the State. Failure to appear on the date set by the court could result in your arrest for failure to obey a court order.The Domestic Violence Unit for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office can be reached at (410) 396-7444. The Baltimore County State’s Attorney Family Violence Unit can be reached at (410) 887-6610. In Carroll County the Domestic Violence Unit of the State’s Attorney’s Office can be reached at (410) 386-2671.


1. An ongoing course of conduct. 

2. The person doing the harassing has to have been asked to stop by the victim or by someone on the victim’s behalf. Assault: Can be charged even if physical contact has not been made if an attempt has been made but stopped by someone else. That is, if a person attempts to assault the victim and it is stopped, assault charges may still be appropriate.

Other Charges:

Common domestic violence charges also include violation of the “no contact” provision of a Temporary or Final Protective Order, battery, breaking and entering, child abuse, abuse of a vulnerable adult, stalking, criminal trespass, false imprisonment, malicious destruction of property, telephone misuse, rape, sexual offense, and obstruction of justice.