Domestic Violence Law Gets Minor - But Needed - Update
Currently, Maryland law (Family Law Article §7-301.1) makes an Interim, Temporary, or Final Protective Order granted in a domestic violence proceeding inadmissible evidence in other family law matters, such as divorce, custody, and custody modification cases.
Additionally, §7-103.1 prevents a court from considering compliance with a protective order as grounds for a limited or absolute divorce. This means (in theory, though not in practice as far as my experience goes) that a person who stays away from and ceases cohabitation with a spouse pursuant to a year-long protective order could stop the court from considering this a 12-month separation or 12-month desertion.
Effective October 1, 2017, §7-103.1 will no longer be the law. The sponsor’s and proponents’ reasoning behind HB293 is that §7-103.1 has become obsolete and may streamline or even save victims of domestic violence from relitigating the abuse.
Current law is outdated. According to the sponsor and proponent, when the domestic violence law first passed, there was concern that the granting of a protective order could be, itself, grounds for divorce. With the introduction of cruelty and excessively vicious conduct as domestic violence grounds themselves, §7-103.1 is no longer necessary. And, in other types of cases the court routinely takes notice of and receives into evidence court documents from other cases between the same parties. This is no different.
The sponsor and proponents also opined that existing law requires the victim of abuse to prove the abuse twice - in the domestic violence and divorce cases - and suggested that the new law would streamline the process with the victim only having to prove the abuse once. While this theoretically may be true, in my experience each judge wants to hear the evidence for herself when faced with deciding issues in that particular case. I expect this to be especially true if the victim seeks alimony or a monetary award in a divorce (which are not part of a domestic violence case), for which the court must consider "the circumstances that contributed to the estrangement of the parties". The court's impression of both parties in a divorce (and any case for that matter) has a significant impact on the outcome. So, while this law might offer the opportunity to streamline the evidence in a later divorce, it is worth considering how much the client will benefit.
Lindsay Parvis is a member of the Legislative Committee of the Family & Juvenile Law Section of the Maryland State Bar Association, seeking to improve family law for families, attorneys, and the courts.