The Maryland House on Thursday voted in favor of a bill that repeals language in Maryland’s Family Law prohibiting decisions in domestic violence proceedings from being admitted as evidence in divorce court. The bill passed with no dissenting votes.
Current Maryland law states that divorce courts cannot consider decisions or orders made in district or circuit courts when hearing divorce proceedings.
Divorce courts can consider abuse as a reason for divorce, but not protective orders, which are given in cases of physical abuse such as rape and assault, or stalking.
“Ignoring domestic violence history ignores the safety of survivors,” said Malore Dusenbery from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. “The most dangerous time for survivors is when they are trying to leave the relationship.”
Abusers can be manipulative of survivors in court, but under the bill, a judge would be able to use a history of protective orders when making a decision in divorce proceedings, Dusenbery said.
“This bill repeals language that just isn’t necessary or relevant,” Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, who is the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, said Feb. 2 in a phone call with Maryland’s Capital News Service. “When the law was written there was concern that protective orders would be used as grounds for divorce, and we’ve moved away from that.”
A matching bill in the Senate received a hearing at the Judicial Proceedings Committee in February, but has not been voted out of the committee.
Protective orders were expanded in 1992 to include more people who could seek an order and extend the duration of the protective order. Final protective orders are generally issued for up to 12 months or, in some cases, two years, an increase from the earlier maximum of 30 days. Legislators at the time were concerned that seeking a protective order would be a quick or easy way to get a divorce.
Maryland divorce law specifies that certain conditions have to be met before a full divorce is granted. Conditions include a separation of 12 months, cruelty or excessively vicious conduct.