An abusive relationship or environment cultivates more than an unhealthy living situation—it can create fear to speak out and get help. You might not even know there are legal avenues at your disposal to help you out of these difficult circumstances. If you think you are a victim of an abusive environment, keep reading to learn about:
Resources and Mandatory Reporting working for you in the short and long term;
Victims’ Rights and protection orders; and
Absolute Divorces and how you might obtain one.
Who Can Help and Mandatory Reporting
In any situation, you need to be on the lookout for signs of abuse. Some can be hard to see; some are more obvious based on how they affect you on a daily basis. Common signs could be anything from a partner’s rampant insecurity to easily lost tempers that lead to violence. You might also notice a partner abusing drugs and alcohol, which only fuels other negative behaviors.
Other forms of abuse may include:
Unrealistic expectations of a person’s time and effort;
This is not by any means an exhaustive list; however, if you are unsure of whether you are a victim of abuse, reaching out and talking to someone about it can help.
For one, talking to a trusted friend could work, but depending on their involvement in your life and relation to the abusive force, you might prefer talking to a third party. These may include a therapist or human service worker, a doctor or health practitioner, or a police officer in more pressing situations.
These three have something in common: they are all mandatory reporters under Maryland law.
What’s a mandatory reporter?
If any of the above-mentioned resources suspect you are in danger, they have a legal duty to report it to any immediate institution relating to your situation. So, for example, if you are the victim of abuse at the hands of another adult, they would report to the department of social services.
Mandatory reporting laws protect people who are unable to protect their own interests and are at risk of harm to themselves or others.
Not only will a mandatory reporter notify the appropriate authorities about abuse, but also exploitation, neglect, self-neglect, and vulnerable adult cases.
Having your story heard is a crucial step in confronting abuse. Though it seems frightening and risky, there are people out there who can help. Likewise, it helps open the door to legal options you might pursue in cases of damage, harm, or family safety.
Knowing Your Rights and How to Respond Legally
Victims always have rights, and you should know that you can reach out for help in any compromising situation.
Experts recommend that you always keep any legal documents, emergency numbers, personal medication, I.D.s, and other essentials close by if you plan to leave a domestic abuse situation.
Many of the other recommendations might seem difficult in the short term, but their long-term benefits could spell more safety and security for you and your family. For one, lawyers recommend recording instances of abuse for future criminal cases or divorce. This might be hard to recount and keep secret or safe, but a record of behavior is evidence.
Additionally, Maryland courts grant protective orders to victims of abuse who fear for their immediate safety—these include acts that cause bodily harm, assault, sexual assault, mental injury to a child, or stalking. The eligibility for a protective order is not limited; there are many situations of abuse covered under Maryland law.
A couple of these include:
Spouse (current or former) of an abuser;
A person who had a sexual relationship with the abuser within a year of filing;
A blood relative of the abuser;
A parent, stepparent, or stepchild of the abuser (if you have lived in the same home for at least nine days within a year of filing); or
A person who has a child with the abuser.
The protective order process is a bit multi-faceted, but you will have legal protection from the abuser in your life with time. With this, the judge may issue orders to the abusive person—or respondent, ranging from ordering them not to contact you to surrender their firearms to pay temporary child support.
Extreme Risk Protective Orders (ERPOs), or ‘red flag’ laws, also exist to protect you from immediate harm. These are filed against allegedly dangerous respondents and order they surrender any firearms or ammunition to law enforcement. Courts might assess the threat level and risk of someone who makes alarming statements violates previous protective orders, or makes violent threats and issue an ERPO. These last less time than a typical protective order but can be extended.
Immediate Options After a Protective Order
After protective orders, you have the option to pursue an absolute divorce—or a divorce that ends your marriage immediately without extra considerations.
In Maryland, you must prove grounds for divorcing your spouse exists—either through ‘no fault’ or ‘fault’ grounds.
‘No fault’ grounds usually include either a 12-month separation between spouses or mutual consent.
However, ‘fault’ grounds include adultery, desertion, and cruelty. Depending on the severity of the act, a single instance of abuse might be enough grounds for an absolute divorce. Otherwise, the courts require you show a pattern of domestically abusive behavior. Many of the abusive traits and grounds for eligibility discussed here may qualify you for an absolute divorce.
Luckily, Maryland law no longer requires corroborated testimony, and an absolute on the grounds of cruelty has no waiting period. If you want to pursue this option, get in touch with an attorney.