This article explains the first steps in the process of getting a Protection from Abuse Order (often called a 'PFA') in the state of Maine. It also lists many resources where survivors can get help and answers many of the most common questions people have about this process.
You are not alone – you can reach out for help, support, or just more information. There are organizations and advocates ready to support you!
Have you already filed for a Protection from Abuse order? Read the next part of this guide: Protection from Abuse in Maine: Getting Ready for Your Hearing & Next Steps
You may want to watch this video first, explaining the basics.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is a Court Order that can help protect you and your children from people who are a threat to you. Generally you can get a Protection from Abuse Order against:
- your spouse or ex-spouse
- someone you live with or used to live with
- your current or former dating partner or intimate partner (someone you have a sexual relationship with)
- anyone who has stalked you or sexually assaulted you
- anyone who has trafficked you for sex
- anyone who has used or threatened to use intimate photos against you (non-consensual pornography)
What counts as 'abuse' in Maine? Who can I get a PFA against?
The list above covers some of the most common reasons to get a PFA - but the details of your situation are important and will determine what you need to prove, and who you can get a PFA against.
Adults 60 years of age or older, dependent adults, and incapacitated adults can seek protection against extended family members and unpaid care providers.There are different ways that older and dependent adults can qualify for protection orders. Maine law has specific definitions that apply to older or dependent adults - you can read them here.
If you file a protection order against someone you are married to or used to be married to, someone you dated or had a sexual relationship with, or someone you live with or used to live with, you have to prove that they have abused you, according to the legal definition of abuse. In Maine, this includes:
- physically hurting you,
- sexually assaulting you,
- threatening to hurt you or someone else, or
- making you afraid of being hurt.
If you are a victim of sexual assault, sex trafficking, stalking, or someone has shared intimate photos of you, you can file a protection order against that person even if they are not related to you or you haven’t had any kind of relationship with them. You do not have to prove abuse. You do have to prove the other actions or behavior.
What if I am being harassed by someone else, or in other ways?
If you are being harassed in other ways, or by persons not on this list, you can ask for a Protection from Harassment Order. You can get the forms from any District Court or get the PFH Forms Packet from the court website.
What if my child is being abused?
If you are responsible for a minor child, you can ask for an Order on behalf of the child. If you are both being abused, you can ask the Court to give an order that will protect both of you.
Note: Bringing a complaint just on behalf of an abused child can be complicated. The Court rules can make it difficult to "prove" your case. Before taking this step, you may want to get advice from a Domestic Violence Project lawyer or a Sexual Assault Project lawyer.
Where do I go to ask for an order?
You can go to the District Court:
- where you live, or
- where the person who abused you lives, or
- where you have gone to escape the abuse
If a judge is not available, or the court is not open, another Court can issue an order. You can also file for an order online. There are special instructions about how to file online.
Note: If you have moved to escape your abuser, and you file your complaint in the county where you are now living, your abuser will know, from the court papers, which county you now live in.
How much will it cost?
There is no cost to you. You should not be charged by the court or by law enforcement at any time during the protection from abuse process.
How do I start the process of getting a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order?
First, get the court forms you will need. You can get the fillable PFA court forms packet online or go to the court clerk's office and ask for a Protection from Abuse forms packet. If you have trouble understanding the forms, ask the court clerk, a friend, or a domestic abuse or sexual assault advocate for help.
Where to get help with court forms and other support:
How do I fill out the Complaint form?
Fill out the form as completely as you can. You are the Plaintiff and the person who abused you is the Defendant. If you are bringing the complaint for your child, list yourself as Plaintiff "on behalf of" your child. If both of you have been abused, say that you are complaining on behalf of yourself and your child.
Describe the abuse with as much detail as you remember. Example: "On June 20 of this year John Doe slapped me hard on the face, leaving a red mark. Then he kicked my leg causing bruises. The next day he told me he would kill my cat if I tell anyone or don't do as he says."
In the last section of the form, where you are asking the Court to give certain orders, be sure to check all the boxes that apply to you or that you think might apply to you. You can change your mind later and drop any requests. But if you leave any boxes unchecked, the Judge may not let you ask for those things later on (because the Defendant did not know you were asking for those things).
What if the defendant has firearms (guns) or dangerous weapons?
If the defendant has a dangerous weapon, you can ask the court to stop them from having or using the weapon as part of the PFA Order.
"Dangerous weapons" can be more than just guns. Here are some other examples of dangerous weapons:
- Any other weapon that can kill or cause serious injury
Here's what to do if you want the court to stop the defendant from having dangerous weapons:
- Check off box (e) on the second page of your PFA Complaint.
- In the statement you file with your complaint, explain to the judge why you do not want the defendant to have dangerous weapons.
Some of the factors the court will consider are whether:
- The abuse has involved a dangerous weapon;
- The defendant has violated a PFA in the past;
- The order won't protect you if the defendant is allowed to have weapons;
- The abuse has caused injuries;
- Any of the abuse has happened in public; or
- The abuse includes:
- threats of suicide;
- threats of harm to pets;
- violence that is getting worse;
- stalking behavior or obsession;
- sexual violence;
- the defendant’s excessive alcohol or drug use; or
- abuse against a pregnant person.
If you know what dangerous weapons the defendant has, make sure to describe them. You can do this in the affidavit that you file with your PFA Complaint. Give as much detail as you can. Include:
- Number of weapons
- Kind of weapon
- What they look like
- Where they are usually kept
What if I don’t want the Defendant to find out where I am staying?
Wherever the forms ask for your name and address, write your name only. Wherever the form asks for your address or your child’s address, write “confidential.” Then ask the clerk for an Affidavit for Confidential Address form, or get the form online.
Say in the affidavit why you think this information must be kept private, for the safety of you or your children. Give your affidavit to the clerk along with your other papers. The clerk will then "seal" this information, so that others can't see it. If the Defendant objects to this in writing, the court could hold a hearing to decide whether the clerk must still keep the information secret.
Let the clerk know if your address changes before your case is done.
If you don't think that this will provide the protection you need, talk to your nearest Domestic Violence Project or Sexual Assault Project about the "Address Confidentiality Program." This program gives you a legal address separate from your actual address. The Maine Secretary of State gives you the alternative legal address, gets your mail at that address, then forwards your mail to you. When notified that you have an alternative address through the Address Confidentiality Program, all state and local agencies, including the courts, are required to use that address. Only the Secretary of State can make exceptions to this rule and only under very narrow circumstances. Some domestic violence projects and sexual assault projects can also provide temporary alternative addresses.
How soon will the Court issue an Order?
If you need protection right away, check the box asking for a Temporary Order. If the judge who reads your complaint agrees that you are in immediate danger, they will issue an order right away. The order will take effect as soon as it is served on the defendant. If the judge does not give a temporary order, you will still have the chance to get an order later, after a court hearing.
What happens after I fill out the Complaint?
The complaint has to be notarized. This means that you must sign the complaint, swearing that it is true, in front of the court clerk, a notary public, or a lawyer.
The clerk may also ask you to fill out a Protection Order Service Information form. On this form, write down where the defendant can be found. This will help the police or sheriff find the defendant to serve the court papers.
If the defendant is not already ordered to pay child support, and you want the Court to order child support, ask the clerk for a Child Support Affidavit. You can file it with your complaint or fill it out later. If you fill it out later, file it with the clerk before your court hearing, send a copy to the defendant, and save a copy for yourself. Or bring multiple copies with you to your court hearing. You will also need to check the box on the Complaint form requesting child support. If you have a confidential address, you should note that on the child support affidavit where it asks for your address and do not include your address on that form.
- Get interactive Child Support Affidavit (does calculations for you)
- More information about calculating child support
Will I have to talk to the judge?
Maybe. The clerk will show your Complaint to the judge. After the judge reads it, they may want to know more. Then the judge will talk to you. They may ask you to explain the abuse in more detail. If your Complaint has enough information, the judge will give a Temporary Order without talking to you. But Maine law requires the judge to talk to you before denying a Temporary Order and to explain the reasons why it is being denied.
Will the Defendant see what I wrote in the Complaint?
Yes. If the judge issued (or granted) a Temporary Order, the clerk will ask a police officer or deputy sheriff to serve the Complaint and Temporary Order and Notice of Hearing on the Defendant. The clerk should also give you copies of these papers. The Court must schedule a hearing within 21 days. The Notice of Hearing will tell you the date and time.
What happens with dangerous weapons after the temporary order?
The court can issue an order as part of the temporary order stopping the defendant from having or using firearms (guns) or dangerous weapons.
If the judge grants a temporary order that stops the defendant from having or using firearms, the order will say:
- What firearms or other weapons the defendant cannot have.
- When the defendant has to “relinquish” ( give up or turn over) the firearms or other weapons
- Where the firearms or other weapons have to go. This can be to law enforcement or to another person.
If the temporary order says that the defendant has to turn over firearms or weapons to law enforcement, the agency that serves the order will make sure this happens. If the order is served by court officers at the courthouse, the order will say which law enforcement agency is in charge of making sure the weapons are turned over.
Beginning in May, 2022, there is a new process for tracking what firearms are turned over. If the court stops the defendant from having or using firearms, the person who gets the firearms or other weapons will fill out a form that says:
- If the defendant turned over any firearms or weapons
- What weapons were turned over
- The date the weapons were turned over
- How many weapons were turned over
- A description of the weapons
The form also will say if the defendant does not turn over any weapons, and the reason why.
If there are weapons that are somewhere different than where the defendant is now (for example, at a camp that is in a different part of the state), those weapons will have to be turned over too. Another law enforcement agency might be involved if there is more than one place that defendant has weapons.
If the court enters a temporary order , the defendant will not be allowed to have or use dangerous weapons while the temporary order is in place. If you think the defendant still has dangerous weapons, you can call the police and report this. You can also ask the court to issue a search warrant.
What if the judge does not issue a Temporary Order?
If the judge does not issue a Temporary Order after talking to you but you still want to get an order, the clerk will fill out a Summons. The Summons will tell the Defendant the date and time that your Complaint will be heard by the Court. The clerk will give you copies of the Complaint and Summons. Take two copies of each to the police department or sheriff's office, along with the Service Information Sheet. Law enforcement will serve all these papers on the Defendant. Check back with them before your hearing to make sure they have sent a Return of Service back to the Court, showing that the Defendant got notice of the hearing. You can also call the clerk to see if the court has proof that the Defendant has notice, called ‘proof of service.” The Court cannot hold a hearing on your Complaint until the Defendant knows about the case and has been served with a copy of the paperwork.
You will not have to pay any fees to the sheriff’s office or law enforcement for them to serve your protection from abuse paperwork.
What if the Defendant does not live in Maine?
If you have a good address for the Defendant, the Court will send out your Complaint and other required paperwork to the appropriate law enforcement agency. Then they will "serve" the Defendant with notice of your request for a PFA order. You need to try to find out as much as you can about where the Defendant is living out of state. They can't charge you for this service.
What if the Defendant is not served before the court hearing date?
You should still go to Court at the scheduled time. The judge will postpone the hearing and set a new date. This might happen a few times until the Defendant is served. After a while, if you don't have enough information about where the Defendant can be notified, or "served," you may need to dismiss your complaint and start again when you know the where the Defendant is.
If you think you will be able to figure out soon where the Defendant can be "served," ask the judge to postpone the hearing and keep the clerk or law enforcement agency informed about the Defendant's location.
Do I have to go to the court hearing?
Yes. If you do not go, the Court will dismiss your case and your Temporary Order will end.
If you have a very good reason why you can't be at the hearing, you may ask the judge in writing for another hearing date. Give your request to the clerk as soon as you know you will not be able to be there. The judge will read it and decide if your hearing will be postponed or not.
Getting ready for your hearing and more resources