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Protection From Abuse

Protection Orders in Maine

In Maine, what most people would refer to as "restraining orders" are referred to generally as "protection" or "protective" orders and come in two major varieties: protection from abuse and protection from harassment. The two are very similar in how they are obtained and what their effects are, but are essentially two different tools for two different situations. What qualifies as "abuse" under Maine law is defined by Title 19-A section 4002, while "harassment" under Maine law is defined by Title 5 section 4651. At the risk of stating the obvious, whichever tool you choose to utilize will depend on your particular situation.

Temporary Orders

If you wish to seek a protection order, you must go to the District Court of the County in which you reside and file a Complaint for Protection from Abuse or Protection from Harassment. You can go to the clerk's window to obtain the proper paperwork. Part of filing a complaint will be filling out an affidavit. You will simply describe the grounds for why you are seeking the protective order. Try to narrate the events as accurately as possible and be honest. Remember that by signing the affidavit you are swearing that you have told the truth. It is a crime to falsely swear to the truth of statements in your affidavit.

Once your Complaint is submitted it will be reviewed by a judge, and if the judge determines that you have established for good cause shown that your are in immediate and present danger, a Temporary Order for Protection from Abuse will be issued, and the Court will arrange for the Order to be served on the Defendant by a Sheriff's deputy. 

Regardless of whether the Court issues a Temporary Order, a hearing will be scheduled for your matter within the next 21 days.

Prohibition on Contact

Any kind of protection order whether it be temporary or permanent, or for protection from either abuse or harassment, will carry with it a no contact provision. The no contact provision is just how it sounds, the Defendant will be prohibited from having any contact with the Plaintiff. This includes both direct and indirect contact. The Defendant whom the order is entered against is therefore forbidden from speaking to, gesturing at, texting, calling, writing letters or emails to the Plaintiff as well as from passing along messages in any way shape or form using another person.

Violation of the no contact provision of any protection order is a crime, and the person who commits such a violation is subject to arrest without a warrant.

Final Hearing

Oftentimes, people will file a Complaint for Protection from abuse without understanding that after a Temporary Order is issued by the Court, they will still have to prove the allegations in order to obtain a "permanent" order. A PFA or PFH hearing is a evidentiary procedure that takes place in front of a judge. In simpler terms, it is a trial. The Plaintiff will be allowed to call witnesses and introduce evidence to support the allegations against the Defendant, and the Defendant will be allowed to call witnesses and introduce evidence to refute those allegations. Just like in any other trial, the proceedings are governed by the Maine Rules of Evidence.

In order to prevail at final hearing, the Plaintiff must prove that the allegations of abuse or harassment (depending on which complaint you have filed) by a preponderance of the evidence. A preponderance of the evidence is best explained by saying that it is "more likely than not" that the abuse or harassment occurred. It is a significantly lower standard than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of the criminal justice system. 

Final Orders

On the day of hearing, if both sides are present the judge will first afford the opportunity for discussion or negotiation. If there is a temporary order in place on the date of hearing, these discussions will have to take place through a third party. This process is of course made easier if one or both parties are represented by counsel on the hearing date. The parties may agree at this time to enter a final order without the need of conducting a hearing. The incentive for the Plaintiff to consider settling in this fashion is to avoid the uncertainty of a trial and risk being left without a protection order. As for the Defendant, the incentive to agree to a protection order is that when a protection order is entered without a hearing it is done so without the judge entering a factual finding of abuse, which carries with it its own set of collateral consequences.

Otherwise, Final Orders will be issued by the Court when proved at hearing by a preponderance of the evidence as described above, and will be accompanied by factual findings. Final Orders issued in a Protection from Abuse case will last for a period of two years, while Final Orders in Proptection from Harassment cases will last for one year. At the expiration of the relevant time period a Plaintiff in a PFA or PFH can request that the Court extend the order beyond the initial time-period if it is necessary for the safety of the Plaintiff.

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Whether you are a Plaintiff or a Defendant in a PFA or PFH matter, it is vital that you obtain competent counsel to protect your rights. Retaining a skilled attorney in these matters is the best way to ensure you are protected.

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