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On the latest installment of our Lawyer Says series, our family law team explains the implications of someone “accidentally” violating a protective order by running into the petitioner in public.

The Question: I have a final protective order against my ex. What happens if we accidentally bump into each other in public?

I was granted a final injunction for protection (domestic violence) against my ex husband. I’ve read it through and I’m a little confused. It clearly states he can’t have any contact w[ith] me in any way, 500 feet distance from my house and employment, and 100 feet from my car.

My question is, if we were to bump into each other in public place or for if he goes somewhere he can reasonably expect me to be (like open house at school for the kids)…does the restraining order protect against that? I thought it would say somewhere he would have to stay X feet away from me at all time but I don’t specifically see that.

The Answer: When “bumping” into each other in public, it’s best for one of you to leave the area as soon as possible, especially the respondent (the person who the protective order was filed against). In fact, under Maryland law there are certain places where a respondent can’t even be present.

Firstly, we need to preface our full answer by noting that this week’s question was submitted by someone who does not live in the state of Maryland. However, they still have a reasonably general inquiry about protective orders and how they work, so we figured we’d take the chance to address their question.

The state of Maryland does not place distance restrictions on people with a protective order filed against them (otherwise known as the “respondent”). Instead, a protective order ruling will state specific locations that the respondent cannot be present at, such as the petitioner’s (the person who filed the protective order) workplace, school, gym, home, etc. Furthermore, the respondent is made well aware which locations are included in the ruling, so they have no excuse for “not knowing” where they aren’t allowed to be. By having these specific stipulations in place, Maryland can prevent many accidental run-ins between a petitioner and a respondent.

So, yes, a protective order (especially one in Maryland) would cover places where you’d expect to see your ex-husband. In regards to your children’s school, he would need to contact the school and schedule separate meetings to ensure that you aren’t both there at the same time.

Now, that’s not to say that coincidental “run-ins” between the parties in a protective order don’t happen.

When these situations do occur, it’s best for the respondent to leave the area immediately. Alternatively, the petitioner can leave the area instead. Either solution works, and would usually prevent any full-blown violation of the order. In Maryland, any of the specific places mentioned in the order (a specific school, the petitioner’s home, etc.) are totally off-limits to the respondent, and if they were found present at one of these locations, that would definitely constitute a violation of the order.

It’s worth noting that “no contact” also includes communication through texts, emails, phone calls, and social media. Any attempt at these kinds of communication would violate the order as well.

In Maryland, violation of a protective order brings criminal charges, so it is best to completely obey the order while it’s in effect. Protective orders are meant to do just that; protect the petitioner above all else, so if you have a protective order filed against someone and at any time you don’t feel safe, you should immediately contact the police to enforce the ruling on your behalf.

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Our automatic disclaimer: We’re lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We’re providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual’s attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a “real” response!