Maryland Enacts New Laws to Protect Families from Domestic Violence

Many states throughout the country have enacted “no fault” divorce laws, essentially permitting married couples to file for divorce without first citing specific grounds or satisfying other cumbersome requirements. Under Maryland law, however, spouses may only file for a “no fault” divorce after living apart for one full year, in separate homes. This is a requirement. Parties may file for divorce immediately if one can prove certain events including adultery, cruelty of treatment, and excessively vicious conduct.

According to an article published last year, the state of this current law can cause difficulties for couples hoping to dissolve their marriage. If you are experiencing a family law dispute of any kind, it is important to understand the extent of your rights under the circumstances. The best course of action is to contact an experienced Maryland family law attorney who would be up to date with the laws that could affect your case.

In that same article referenced above, the author elaborated on an issue with Maryland’s divorce laws. The only way a spouse is able to force a separation (in order to achieve a divorce without waiting the one year) is to initiate a domestic violence process. But at that time, critics of the law argued that the state imposed a “rigid burden of proof for victims of domestic abuse to receive a civil protection order.” Legislators addressed the issue and proposed a bill that would amend the domestic violence law, changing the standard of proof from “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of the evidence.” The latter is the standard that Maryland courts apply to most other civil proceedings. Proponents of the change suggested that the amendments would give courts greater flexibility in granting much-needed protections to victims of domestic violence.

Just this past October 2014, Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown announced the enactment of three new domestic violence laws that afford families greater protection from domestic abuse. The first law (HB 307) is titled “Peace and Protective Orders – Burden of Proof.” It accomplishes the goal of relaxing the burden of proof so that victims of domestic abuse will have easier access to recourse from the courts. The second law, titled “Permanent Final Protective Orders” (HB 309), protects victims by adding second-degree assault to the list of crimes for which a person may obtain a permanent final protective order. According to the Lt. Governor’s website, a 2012 report indicated that 94% of domestic violence crimes are charged as assault.

The third and final law that is part of this package is titled “Committing a Crime of Violence in the Presence of a Minor – Penalties” (SB 337). This law is aimed at protecting children who are exposed to domestic violence. Courts are given the authority to impose enhanced penalties for acts of domestic violence that are committed in the presence of a minor.

These three laws went into effect on October 1, 2014. One byproduct of the amendments, as far as the burden of proof is concerned, is that spouses who seek to divorce (and choose to file on grounds of domestic violence) will have an easier time proving their cases. There is some hope still that the state will revise its divorce laws to make it easier for spouses to obtain a no-fault divorce. If you have questions about Maryland family law and how it applies to your case, you are encouraged to contact an experienced matrimonial attorney as soon as possible. Anthony A. Fatemi is a family law attorney with a great deal of experience representing parties throughout the state of Maryland. For help with your family law needs, you are encouraged to contact us at (301) 519-2801, or to submit our online contact form.

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Maryland Governor O’Malley Establishes Commission on Child Custody Decision Making



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