What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence may take many forms. Generally, domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior in which one person attempts to control another through threats or actual use of tactics, which may include any or all of the following: physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuse.

Under the law, “abuse” means that any of the following have occurred between people who are “family, household members or dating partners”:

  • Attempting to cause or causing bodily injury or offensive physical contact;
  • Attempting to place or placing another in fear of bodily injury through any course of conduct, including, but not limited to, threatening, harassing or tormenting behavior;
  • Compelling, by force, threat of force, or intimidation, a person to engage in conduct, such as causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, or to abstain from conduct in which they have a right to engage;
  • Restricting another person’s movement, by knowingly removing them from home, work or school, or moving them a substantial distance from where they were found, or confining the person;
  • Placing a person in reasonable fear that a crime will be committed by threatening them or another person that they will be committing a crime of violence against the person; or
  • Repeatedly and without reasonable cause following a person or being in the vicinity of their work, school or home (19-A Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4002(1)).

Do the domestic violence laws apply to people in same-sex relationships?

Generally yes. The definition of “family, household members and dating partners” includes married couples, domestic partners or former domestic partners, people who are or have “liv[ed] together as spouses”, people who are sexual partners or are living together (or did so previously), as well as individuals currently or formerly dating each other, whether or not the individuals are or were sexual partners (19-A Me. Rev. Stat. sec 4002). The law applies equally to all people, but the application depends upon the nature of the relationship of the people involved.

How do I get a court order protecting me from an abusive partner?

To get protection, go to the District Court in the community where you live or where the abuser lives. The court clerk will have a packet of information for you to complete. There is no fee, and there is a means of keeping your address confidential from the public. You will have to allege abuse as defined above, and indicate where you think the abuser/defendant can be found so that he or she can be served with (given a copy of) the court papers. If the courts are closed, contact your local police who will locate a judge to help. On this basis, you may receive a temporary order of protection good for up to 21 days. In order for those orders to be enforceable, the police must serve a copy on the defendant/abuser, and a defendant cannot be arrested for violating orders if he or she has not been given a copy of them. The orders can restrain the defendant from coming near you or your children, keep the defendant away from your home, and/or place of employment or contacting you at all, and determine child custody issues on a short-term basis.

Violation of a protection order is a criminal offense (see generally 19-A Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4001 et seq).

The temporary orders will indicate the date set for the court hearing at which you can try to extend your court orders. At this point, the defendant will tell his or her side of the story as well, and you can be called upon to answer questions. At this stage, both parties often have attorneys. If the Court determines the defendant has made a credible threat to the physical safety of you or a child in your household, the relief may be extended for up to two years.

If for some reason you decide not to go through with the order, it is important to show up in court on your assigned date and ask that the case be dismissed.

In addition, Maine’s harassment law described below may be useful for people who are experiencing harassment from a partner of the same sex.  An order preventing harassment can be taken out against anyone (5 Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 4651.  See also http://www.courts.state.me.us/publications_other/pa_ph-1207.pdf).

Where can I go to get help?

In Maine, local domestic violence projects across the state provide direct services to victims of domestic violence. The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) is a coalition of the nine domestic violence projects in the state. There is a statewide domestic violence helpline at 866-834-HELP (4357). This number will direct victims to support centers in their county. These support centers also provide court advocacy. MCEDV maintains information for same-sex partners on their website at http://www.mcedv.org.

In addition to the local police, there are several other hotlines and on-line resources:

  • Sexual Assault Support Hotline, (800) 871-7741 (statewide, 24-hours), a complete listing of local member sexual assault centers can be found at http://www.mecasa.org/;
  • Office of the Maine Attorney General, 207-626-8800, http://www.maine.gov/ag/.

Does domestic violence play a role in parental rights and responsibilities decisions?

Yes. It is a factor the court must consider in allocating parental rights and responsibilities, and courts may provide conditions upon an abuser seeing his or her children (see generally 19-A Me. Rev. Stat. sec. 1653 (6)).