Maryland Domestic Violence Laws

In Maryland, certain crimes that occur between family and household members are considered domestic violence (also called domestic abuse). It is also a crime in Maryland to violate a domestic violence protective order.

Under Maryland law, the following crimes will be considered domestic violence when they occur between family or household members:

  • assault
  • child abuse and abuse of a vulnerable adult
  • rape and other sex crimes
  • false imprisonment
  • stalking, and
  • causing serious bodily harm or placing the victim in imminent fear of serious bodily harm.

Family and household members include current and former spouses, people related by blood, marriage, or adoption, people who live together, parents, stepparents, and children who live together, and people who have children together. Vulnerable adults are adults who cannot take care of themselves.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § § 4-501, 14–101.)

For more information on assault crimes, see Maryland Assault and Battery Laws and Maryland Aggravated Assault Laws.

Arrests for Domestic Abuse

In certain circumstances, a law enforcement officer may arrest a person suspected of domestic violence without a warrant. The incident must have been reported to the police within 48 hours. There must be evidence that the victim is injured. The officer must have a reasonable belief that the defendant battered a spouse (or another person living with the defendant), and must fear that, unless arrested, the defendant may evade arrest, cause injury, damage property, or tamper with or dispose of evidence.

An officer may also make an arrest without a warrant if the officer has a reasonable belief that a person has violated a protective order.

(Md. Ann. [Crim. Pro.] Code § 2-204, [Fam.] Code § 4-509.)

Protective Orders

A protective order (also called a restraining order) is a court order requiring one person (the respondent) to not contact and stay away from another person (the petitioner). It is a crime to violate a protective order.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § 4-508.)

Family and household members may file petitions for protective orders in family court to protect themselves or minor children. Additionally, the state’s attorney, the department of social services, a relative, or another adult who lives with the victim may file a petition on behalf of a child or vulnerable adult.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § 4-501, 4-504.)

Temporary protective order

Following an initial hearing, whether the respondent attends or not, the court can issue a temporary protective order if it finds reasonable grounds to believe a family or household member has been abused.

The order can:

  • prohibit the respondent from abusing, threatening, or contacting the petitioner
  • prohibit the respondent from coming to the petitioner’s residence, workplace, school, or child care provider
  • exclude the respondent from the petitioner’s residence, including a shared home
  • award the petitioner use of a shared home
  • award temporary custody of any children
  • award temporary possession of any pets, and
  • prohibit the respondent from possessing any firearms and order the respondent to surrender any firearms if the respondent used or threatened to use a firearm or caused or threatened to cause serious bodily injury.

A temporary order is in effect for seven days after the respondent is served (given a copy of the order), but can be extended for up to six months to allow time for service or for another good reason. After the temporary order is served, a hearing on a final order should be set within seven days.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § 4-505. 4-506.)

Final protective order

Usually, before a final protective order can be issued, the respondent must have the opportunity to appear in court and be heard by the judge. However, a final order can be issued at the initial hearing if the respondent appears at the hearing, or has already been served with the temporary order, or agrees with the petitioner that a final order should be issued.

A final order is generally in effect for one year, but it may be extended or even made permanent under certain circumstances.

In a final order, the court can do all of the things it can do in a temporary order, and can also:

  • establish temporary visitation of minor children, including supervised visitation
  • order the respondent to pay financial support to the petitioner
  • award the petitioner use of a jointly owned vehicle (if needed for work or to care for children)
  • mandate counseling or domestic violence treatment for the petitioner or the respondent or both, and
  • order the respondent to pay filing fees or costs.

As part of every final order, the respondent is prohibited from possessing any firearms and must surrender any firearms to a law enforcement officer.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § § 4-505, 4-506, 4-507.)

Interim protective order

The court can issue an interim protective order when it finds reasonable grounds to believe the respondent has committed domestic abuse. An interim order can be issued before the respondent has an opportunity to appear in court, or even learn about the petition, and is only in effect until a hearing can be held or for two business days.

The interim order can:

  • prohibit the respondent from abusing, threatening, or contacting the petitioner
  • prohibit the respondent from coming to the petitioner’s residence, workplace or school
  • exclude the respondent from the petitioner’s residence, including a shared home
  • award the petitioner use of a shared home
  • award temporary custody of any children, and
  • award temporary possession of any pets.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § 4-504.1)

Punishment for Domestic Violence

Crimes that constitute domestic abuse are not punished more severely merely because they are committed against a family or household member. However, Maryland courts generally have wide discretion in deciding how much time a defendant should serve and, of course, the judge will always consider the facts of the offense in sentencing, including the identity of the victim.

Violating a protective order is a misdemeanor. The first offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Second and subsequent offenses are punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. It is also contempt of court (disobeying a court’s order) to violate a temporary or final protective order, punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

(Md. Ann. [Fam.] Code § § 4-508, 4-509.)

Getting Legal Advice and Counsel

If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence or served with a petition for a protective order, you should contact a Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. A protective order or a criminal conviction can have serious consequences. A criminal defense attorney will be able to help you navigate the court system and help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case.

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