Circuit Court Protective Order Practices in Domestic Violence Cases: In the Best Interests of the Child?

This report focuses on the well-being of children living with domestic violence and how it is impacted by
decisions judges make in final protective orders and conclude that Maryland’s Best interests of the Child
standard is not being met consistently in protective orders issued by Montgomery County’s Circuit
Court. Our findings indicate judges rarely order remedies available to protect children such as
Emergency Family maintenance; nor do judges often take advantage of services available in the County
that can provide long term benefit to families touched by domestic violence, such as ordering abusers to
offender counseling and ordering children to Safe Start Child counseling. More important, judges are
often forced to fashion visitation arrangements that risk further traumatizing children, impacting both
their safety and that of the custodial parent, either ordering ex-partners to exchange children in unsafe
environments or ordering family members or friends of the parties to act as visitation supervisors,
though they may lack guidelines for how to handle this fraught situation as well as a full awareness of
the children’s best interests. We urge County leaders to consider better alternatives to these
arrangements: 1) affordable child transfer services and monitored supervised visitation services where
children’s interactions with the abusive divorced/separated parent can be safely supervised by a trained