Before we begin, I need to present a quick legal disclaimer. I am a Maryland family attorney, Virginia family attorney, and DC family attorney. Therefore, the information contained in this article is geared towards those jurisdictions. If you need help with a domestic violence case in any other state, I highly recommend seeing an attorney licensed to practice in that jurisdiction. It is also important to note that this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be used as legal advice.
Now that we have the formalities out of the way, let's talk about domestic violence and, more specifically, about the protective order process. First, without domestic violence, there isn't a protective order. So what is domestic violence? Basically, it is an act of violence committed against a person eligible for relief, which either physically harms the person or places them in reasonable fear of imminent bodily harm. Other acts that may entitle the victim to relief are those that constitute assault, false imprisonment, or stalking. The definitions of a person eligible for relief and domestic violence will vary depending on your location. Consequently, it is important to consult a family law attorney if you are considering petitioning the court for an order of protection or you have been served with paperwork alleging you have committed family abuse.
Once the act (or acts) is committed, the victim must turn to the court for help with obtaining a protective order. Of course, if someone is abusing you, the first thing you really want to do is call the police, but the court is the next step. The course of action will depend on whether you make contact with the court during normal business hours or outside of the court's normal hours.
If you are filing a petition for an order of protection, and it is the weekend or the middle of the night or otherwise during a time when the court is not open, you will appear before a commissioner or other third party authorized by law, who has the authority to issue an interim protective order. The interim protective order will offer protection for a very limited period of time, usually only until the court opens and you are able to appear before a judge.
If you are filing your petition while the court is open, or if you are coming to court after the entry of an interim protective order, then you will appear before a judge for issuance of a temporary protective order. The purpose of this hearing is to determine whether there is enough of a reason for the judge to issue a temporary order and set the case for a final protective order hearing. In most cases, the alleged abuser will not be present at the temporary protective order hearing, and the temporary order is only in effect until the final hearing takes place. After the temporary protective order hearing, the sheriff or other authorized officer will serve the alleged abuser with the order and the notice to appear for the final hearing. Usually the final hearing takes place within one to two weeks after the temporary hearing.
Next comes the final protective order hearing. This is the time when you get to present to the judge all of the reasons why you need protection from the person who abused you. Or it is the time when you get to present all the reasons why you didn't abuse the person who is making the allegations against you. Either way, depending on the evidence presented and the standard of proof, the judge will either grant an order of protection or dismiss the petition. If the judge grants an order of protection, there are many different provisions that can be included in the final protective order. In addition to no contact provisions, the judge may be able to order the abuser to get treatment for anger management, alcohol, or drugs, surrender firearms, not go within a certain distance of specific addresses, and other things. If the parties have minor children together, the judge may issue a temporary custody and visitation schedule or also issue an order protecting the children. If the judge dismisses the petition, the case is over, subject to the different rules pertaining to appeals.
So there you have it - the protective order process in a nutshell. One myth about protective orders is that they are in effect forever. That just isn't the case. There is a limited time period for which the protective order can be in effect. But these and other questions about the intricacies and nuances of the petition, process, and orders are better to be answered by your family law attorney.