On November 13, 2014, the Family Law Committee of the Baltimore County Bar Association held its monthly dinner meeting at Fazzini’s Taverna in Cockeysville. In addition to the evening’s presenters, the Honorable Sally C. Chester and Judith Wolfer, Esquire, those in attendance included Master C. Theresa Beck and Master Jacqueline E. Dawson, as well as over 50 members of the Bar. The gathering began with brief updates and announcements from Committee Chair, Mary R. Sanders, and State Bar Association Family Law Section Council Member, Kristine K. Howanski.
The evening’s main event, coordinated by Alaina L. Storie, provided a view from both bench and bar of the change of the burden of proof in protective order and peace order cases. Maryland became the 50th state to adopt a preponderance of the evidence standard for both protective orders and peace orders, departing from the previous clear and convincing evidence standard. The new standard went into effect on October 1, 2014.
Following the announcements, Ms. Stories introduced the night’s keynote speakers; Judge Chester, of the District Court for Baltimore County, and Ms. Wolfer, of the House of Ruth. Both presenters agreed that it may be too early to tell with any certainty the effect of the new standard, but acknowledged that ultimately we are likely to see an increase in orders issued. Judge Chester further emphasized that where actual abuse and legitimate fear are evident, the Court’s decision will not be effected by the new standard. She did note that we may see more orders issued but of a shorter duration in certain circumstances.
Providing a prospective from the Bar, Ms. Wolfer stated that she and her colleagues have not altered their litigation approach in light of the change. Interestingly, if anything, she has felt a need to put on more evidence simply because burden of proof is on the top of everyone’s mind as a result of the change. Ms. Wolfer further noted that the biggest change she expects to see is an increase in cross petitions.
As always the event was well organized and informative. These dinners continue to be a hit. Please keep an eye out for the next Family Law Committee dinner which should take place sometime shortly after the New Year.