You may want to view this video first, explaining the basics. Then learn more details below.
Need to start at the beginning of the process? Read the first part of our guide: Protection from Abuse in Maine: First Steps & Frequently Asked Questions
How do I prepare for the hearing?
Step 1: Decide if you want to have a lawyer represent you.
Many Protection from Abuse cases are handled without a lawyer. If you believe that the other side will have a lawyer, or if there are complicated issues involved in your case, you may be better off with a lawyer.
If you want a lawyer for the hearing, call one as early as possible. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to get one through the Domestic Violence Project or Sexual Assault Project in your county or through Pine Tree Legal Assistance. If you do not want a lawyer but do not want to go alone, you can ask a friend to go with you. A non-lawyer advocate from the local domestic violence projector sexual assault project may also be able to go with you.
Step 2: Prepare your hearing testimony.
At the hearing, you will be asking the judge to continue the Temporary Order for up to two years. To get this, you must prove that the Defendant has abused you (or your child) in at least one of these ways:
- trying to hurt you or touch you in a hurtful way;
- making you afraid of being hurt by, for example, threatening, harassing or tormenting you;
- forcing you or scaring you into:
doing something you have the right not to do (like staying up late at night to entertain or wait on the Defendant when you need to sleep), or not doing something you have the right to do (like leaving the house or going to the store);
- kidnapping you or treating you like a prisoner;
- frightening you by threatening to do serious violence to you, your pet or someone else; this includes threats made to or through a third person;
- repeatedly following you or hanging around near your home, school, or work place to keep an eye on you (stalking);
- sexually assaulting you;
- forcing or leading you into prostitution;
- sharing or threatening to share intimate pictures of you.
When you are thinking about how to tell the judge your story, be aware of these legal categories of abuse.
Step 3: Decide if you want witnesses
If you know other people who saw or heard the abuse, or saw you right after the abuse happened, you may want to ask them to testify.
You also have the right to subpoena witnesses. You can get subpoena forms from the clerk's office. A subpoena is a way to make someone come to court and testify. It may not be a good idea to subpoena someone who is not willing to come on their own unless you are pretty sure that they will testify honestly and be helpful to your case.
Keep in mind that, as a general rule, witnesses can only testify about what they actually saw and heard. Extra witnesses who did not actually see any abuse, or the immediate results of the abuse, will probably not be very helpful to your case.
NOTE: Subpoena forms must be signed by either an attorney or a court clerk.
If you have brought the complaint on behalf of a child, your case may be difficult to prove. If the child is too young to testify, then you will need other evidence to prove your case. You may need testimony from a professional who has treated your child, like a doctor or counselor, especially if there are no other witnesses to the abuse who can testify.
Step 4: Decide if there are any documents you want to use as evidence
Many documents contain out of court statements which cannot be used in court. Most police reports fall into this category. A medical report documenting injuries can be helpful, but you must ask the hospital to certify it first. A threatening letter or note from the Defendant can be used as evidence. If you have documents that you think may help prove your case, bring them and the judge will decide if they can rely on them or not. Any documents you present as evidence will go into the court file, so make copies of papers you want to keep.
Step 5: Decide what relief you will ask the court to give
After the hearing, the judge will decide whether to extend your Order. If they do, then there will be questions about what to include in the Order. The Order will usually:
- order the Defendant not to hurt you or threaten you and any children in your home;
- order the Defendant not to have any contact with you;
- order the Defendant to stay away from your home, school, business or workplace;
- order the Defendant not to stalk you or follow you;
- order the Defendant not to have guns (including muzzle-loaders), bows, crossbows, or other dangerous weapons Learn more about this when the defendant is in the military;
- grant temporary possession of the home to you or the Defendant Learn more about housing protections for survivors;
- order a temporary division of personal property;
- order the Defendant not to take, sell or damage any property that is yours or partly yours;
- order the termination of any life insurance policy on you or your children that is owned by the Defendant;
- order the Defendant to remove any intimate pictures of you and stop sharing them, or pay to remove any intimate pictures, or take other appropriate actions;
- order the Defendant not to damage or take your passport, or to pay to replace any stolen or damaged passports and immigration papers;
- state how long the Order will be in effect (up to two years).
If you have mutual children, the Order may also:
- grant temporary parental rights (primary residence and visitation)
- order payment of child support
- order an immediate payroll withholding to collect support
You can also ask the judge to:
- order the Defendant to get counseling or attend a certified batterers' intervention program
- order the Defendant to pay for your temporary support
- order the Defendant to pay you for loss of earnings, injury to you or your property, or moving expenses
- order the Defendant to pay court costs or attorney fees (or order you to pay these costs, but only if the Court finds that your complaint was "frivolous" after holding a full court hearing with both parties present)
- order that you will have custody and control of any animals in the household
- order anything else you need to stay safe
NOTE: If the judge orders the Defendant to turn over weapons, the Order will say:
- when the weapons need to be turned over, and;
- who the weapons must be turned over to
This can be a law enforcement agency or a trusted third party. If a third party is named to hold the weapons, the Defendant must immediately (within 24 hours) file a written statement explaining:
- what weapons have been turned over;
- the name and address of the holder of the weapons.
If these orders are not followed, the Court may issue a search warrant, to find and take the weapons.
What if they don't give up their weapons?
If you think that the defendant did not hand over all the dangerous weapons they own, you should call the police to let them know. You can also ask the court to issue a search warrant to allow the police to search and get the weapons from the defendant.
Here's how to ask the court to issue a search warrant:
- You can file a written request with the court clerk, or ask in person at the final PFA hearing.
- The court can only issue a search warrant if there is "probable cause." This means that you need to have some evidence to back up your belief that the defendant hasn't turned over all their weapons.
- When you make your request, make sure to give the court all the evidence you have that shows the defendant still has the weapons. For example, give the court:
- text messages;
- statements by witnesses who have seen the defendant with weapons;
- a detailed description of all the weapons you know the defendant owns
Think about any specific kind of relief you may need and be prepared to ask for it. For example:
- if you have no income, prepare a budget showing the court how much money you need per month
- if you are asking for support for yourself or your children, be prepared to testify about the Defendant's income, if you know, or bring verifying documents
- if you think your children are not safe visiting the Defendant alone, develop and propose a supervised visitation plan
- if you think your children would benefit from the Defendant getting a specific type of counseling, ask the court to order that and explain why
- if you are asking for possession of your home, you may want the judge to order the Defendant to turn over all keys to you right away
- tell the judge how long you would like the Order to be in effect (up to two years)
What happens at the court hearing?
If the Defendant does not come to court
You may not have a hearing. Some judges will grant the Order without a hearing. Tell the judge what you want the Order to say. Other judges will want you to testify briefly about the statements made in your complaint. Explain again how the Defendant has abused you. If your Temporary Order was denied, be prepared to tell the judge about the abuse in more detail. Then tell the judge what you want the Order to say.
If the Defendant comes to court and agrees to an Order being issued
The judge will usually draft an Order at your request and sign it. In that case, you will not need a hearing. Tell the judge about any specific relief you need in the Order. If you get an "Order by agreement," it carries the same legal weight as an Order issued by a judge after a hearing. In other words, you can enforce it in the same way that an Order after full hearing is enforceable.
NOTE: If you or the other party has a lawyer, the lawyer may encourage you to enter into an Order by agreement. If you agree to such an Order, you give up your right to a hearing. Be very sure that you understand and are satisfied with the terms of any agreement before you accept an Order without a hearing.
If the Defendant contests your Complaint
You will have a hearing so the judge can decide the issues you disagree on. Each witness will be sworn in. As the Plaintiff, you testify first. Tell the judge your story, describing the abuse as specifically as you can. Explain what happened and when. Then tell the judge about any specific relief you need and why. Tell the judge how long you want the order to last. If you have brought documents, ask the judge to consider them. If you have brought or subpoenaed witnesses, ask them to tell the judge what they saw and heard. The Defendant will have the chance to ask you and your witnesses questions.
After you have finished, the judge will ask the Defendant to give their testimony and present witnesses. If you disagree with what the Defendant is saying, don't interrupt. Write down what you want to ask or say later in response. When the Defendant finishes, you can ask questions. You can also ask questions of the Defendant's witnesses. You have the right to see any documents the Defendant presents.
If the Defendant brings up any new issues, you may testify again after the Defendant closes, but only to respond to any new issues raised by the defense, not to go back over evidence you have already presented.
After both sides have finished, the judge will decide the case. If the Defendant is there and the judge issues an Order, a deputy sheriff will serve the Defendant with the Order right away. You should get a copy of the Order, too. If the Defendant is not there, the clerk will get an officer to serve the Order on the Defendant. The clerk will also send a copy of the Order to your local police or sheriff's office.
What if the Court denies me an Order for Protection?
Here are some options:
- You may want to appeal the decision. The reasons for appeal are limited to "error of law" and "abuse of discretion." The appellate court will not change the fact findings. The appeal deadline is 21 days. See a lawyer.
- You can bring a new Complaint later if the abuse continues. Include in the new complaint any abuse that has happened since the court's denial.
- Whether you have a Protective Order or not, assault, criminal threatening, stalking and trespassing are still criminal acts. If you think the Defendant has committed a new criminal act against you, contact the police and file a new criminal complaint.
- Take other steps to protect yourself. Make a plan and go to a safe place. Get help and support from your local domestic violence project or local sexual assault project and from supportive friends and relatives.
What if the Defendant violates the Order?
Call the police and tell them that the Defendant has violated your Order. The officer can arrest the Defendant for this violation. The officer does not need a warrant and does not have to see the violation in order to arrest..
If the Defendant is being prosecuted for crimes against you, contact the victim advocate at your county district attorney's office for information and support.
NOTE: The separation of "civil law" from "criminal law" creates a lot of confusion. The Protection from Abuse process described here exists in the "civil" realm. A Protection from Abuse Order addresses "civil" issues that are between you and the defendant. In contrast, the "criminal" system involves cases brought by the State of Maine (prosecutors) against persons charged with crimes. An abuser's actions can trigger criminal charges, as well as the need for a civil Protection Order. Also, most violations of that civil Protection Order are classified as crimes. The Protection Order indicates which parts of the Order, if violated, are treated as crimes.
Can I get the Order extended past the two year time limit?
If the Order is going to run out and you still have good reason to believe that you need protection, you can ask for an extension of the Order. You need to do this before your order expires. Ask the clerk's office for a Motion to Extend form. Fill this out, along with a new Protection Order Service Information form. The clerk will set a time and date for your request for an extension to be heard by the judge after the Defendant has received notice of the hearing.
If you do not file the Motion to Extend before the old Order runs out:
- You will have to start all over again by filing a new Protection from Abuse Complaint.
- You cannot get the new Order based on the old acts of abuse that you complained to the Court about to get your old Order.
- The new Protection from Abuse Complaint must be based on more recent abuse. That means abuse that has happened since your old order was granted.
If you have mutual children but do not have a long-term family court order that establishes parental rights and responsibilities, you may want to get this done while your Protection from Abuse Order is still in effect. If you are married to the Defendant, you would deal with these issues in a Divorce. If you are not married to the Defendant, you would need to bring a Determination of Parental Rights and Responsibilities Complaint.
If the Defendant goes to jail, how can I protect myself when they are released?
You can ask to be notified. Get more information on victim notification here. If your protection order is still in effect, and you are still afraid, you may be able to get an extensionof that order. If your order has run out, it may be difficult to get a new order. But, if the defendant does anything new to threaten you, you could then ask for a new order.
What if the abuser contacts me after an arrest but before bail conditions are set?
Regardless of whether you have a Protection Order in place, or not, the abuser commits a crime if they:
- are being detained for an incidence of domestic abuse, and
- county jail staff has warned the abuser not to make contact with you
Call 911. Or report the violation to the police or sheriff's department. Consider getting a Protection Order for longer-term protection, if you haven't already done that.