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7 Key Definitions for Domestic Violence Cases in Maryland


Domestic violence laws make it unlawful to abuse or commit other violent acts against family members. Sometimes referred to legally as domestic abuse, this offense combines certain facets of criminal and family law. To help get a firm grasp on domestic violence laws in Maryland, the following sections will define seven key terms.

  1. Abuse

The definition of abuse appears in Maryland Family Code Section 4–501. Under Maryland law, the term abuse includes:

  • Assault;
  • Battery;
  • Stalking;
  • False imprisonment; and
  • Rape or sexual assault.

Furthermore, Maryland law provides specific considerations for the abuse of children as well as vulnerable adults with a severe disability or mental incapacity.

  1. Domestic Abuse

Section 4-501 also provides the definition of domestic abuse in Maryland. In larger terms, only certain victims are eligible for domestic violence protection. This eligibility depends on the victim’s relationship to the abuser.

Specifically, the victim and the abuser must be:

  • Current or former spouses;
  • Parents who share a child together;
  • Family members related by blood, marriage or adoption;
  • Parents, stepparents, children or stepchildren; or
  • Cohabitants.

If the victim is not related to the abuser in any of the ways listed above, then the offense does not qualify as domestic violence in Maryland.

  1. Cohabitant

The term “cohabitant” has a specific meaning under Section 4-501. Essentially, cohabitants are people who engaged in a sexual relationship and lived together for at least 90 days in the one year preceding the domestic violence incident.

  1. Respondent

The term “respondent” under Section 4-501 refers to the person who allegedly committed domestic violence.

  1. Petitioner

The term “petitioner” under Section 4-501 refers to any person who seeks protection from domestic violence. In most cases, the petitioner is the victim of domestic abuse.

Concerning the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, however, it is possible for a guardian to take legal action on behalf of the victim. If a child or vulnerable adult is the victim of domestic abuse, the following actors can pursue legal action:

  • The State’s Attorney;
  • The Department of Social Services;
  • Any person related to the victim by blood, marriage or adoption; or
  • Any adult who resides in the same home as the victim.
  1. Home

The term “home” under Section 4-501 refers to any property in Maryland that is:

  • The primary residence of the victim or petitioner; or
  • Owned, rented or leased by the victim or petitioner.
  1. Pet

The term “pet” under Section 4-501 refers to any domesticated animal and other companion animals. The term pet does not include livestock under Maryland law.

Contact Us Today for Help

If you have legal questions about domestic violence in Maryland, it can be exceedingly fruitful to contact a trustworthy family law attorney. Based in Bel Air, Maryland, the attorneys at Schlaich & Thompson, Chartered have more than 55 years of combined legal experience in matters of criminal defense and family law, including domestic violence. If you need legal help, contact us today for an initial consultation.



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