Frequently Asked Questions

The Circuit Court for Prince George's County Welcomes All - A Fair Forum for Justice

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1. How do I start a family law case?

First decide if you are going to proceed with or without an attorney. If you hire an attorney, she/he will handle your case. If you decide to represent yourself, you can visit or call:

  • The Information and Referral Center of the Family Division in the Circuit Court, 14735 Main Street, Ground Floor, M0415, Upper Marlboro, 20772, 301-780-8000 between the hours of 8:00am – 4:30pm.
  • Community Legal Services for free legal advice on a first come, first serve basis, 301-864-8353 at the Upper Marlboro Courthouse, Room 2435, Monday – Thursday, 9am – 12pm, and 1pm – 3pm, Friday, 9am – 12pm or at 8011 New Hampshire Ave, Langley Park office.
  • Attend the Free Divorce Seminar:
    English-language seminar, held twice each month at the Upper Marlboro Courthouse.
    Call 301-780-8000 to register.
    Spanish-language seminar, held every other month. Call 301-952-4840 to register.

    2. Do I need a lawyer?

    You may need a lawyer if your case will be contested or involve a dispute over paternity, guardianship, adoption of a minor child, custody, visitation, child support, grounds for divorce, alimony, marital property, pension benefits, guardianship for a disabled adult, children in need of assistance or juvenile case. You may also need a lawyer if you need help to locate or serve the other party, obtain financial information important to your case, represent you in court, or talk with the opposing party or lawyer.

    3. How do I find a lawyer?

    To find a lawyer who is familiar with the domestic laws of Maryland, call the Prince George’s County Lawyer Referral Service, 301-952-1440. You can also read A Guide to Legal Services in Maryland located in the Law Library in the Courthouse. To find out if you are eligible for a lawyer at a reduced cost or at no cost, call the Community Legal Services of Prince George's County, 301-864-8353, or Legal Aid of Prince George's County, 301-560-2100.

    4. What are a plaintiff and a defendant?

    The person who files the Complaint is called the Plaintiff. The person against whom the Complaint is filed is called the Defendant.

    5. How long does it take to get a judgment or settlement?

    The length of time depends on various elements, including but not limited to:

    • if the defendant is served properly and within the time limits
    • if the affidavit of service is completed and completed properly
    • if the defendant answers your complaint/petition
    • if the plaintiff and defendant appear at their court date
    • when the case can be scheduled on the Court’s calendar

    6. Is there a cost?

    The initial filing fee is $165. Additional costs may arise during the course of your case and may vary according to the service involved.

    7. What if I can’t pay the filing fee?

    If you can’t pay the filing fee, you can request that the court waive the fee by filing DomRel 32, Request for Waiver of Prepayment of the Filing Fee. Completing this form will not guarantee a waiver. The court will notify you in writing if you have been granted a waiver of the filing fee.

    8. What forms do I need to start a case for divorce, custody, child support?

    If you are proceeding with the case on your own, you can get the forms with instructions from the Family Division Information and Referral Center. You can also access and print the forms with instructions from the web page, .

    9. What is the difference between a limited divorce and an absolute divorce?

    A limited divorce is essentially a legal separation. It does not dissolve or end a marriage. A limited divorce does not permit you to marry again. An absolute divorce dissolves the marriage and can address custody, alimony, child support, and division of marital property. An absolute divorce allows you to remarry.

    10. What kinds of custody are there?

    When you file for custody, you will need to decide whether or not to request sole or joint physical and legal custody. With sole custody, the children live with one parent all the time and one parent makes all the decisions for the children. Joint custody is a court order whereby custody of a child is awarded to both parents and both parents share the time with the children and the decisions for the children.

    11. What is the difference between custody and guardianship of a minor?

    Both allow you to make decisions for the minor and end at age 18. Under guardianship, the parents of the minor can revoke their consent at any time. Under custody, the parents need to make a motion to modify the order to change custody.

    12. Can I request custody and child support in a divorce case?

    Yes, you can. Depending on the particulars of your case, the Court will decide who to award custody to, who shall pay, and the amount to be paid in child support.

    13. What do I do with the completed forms?

    Make two (2) copies of the forms. Keep one copy for yourself and give the original plus one copy to the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Room D1022, 14735 Main Street, Upper Marlboro, MD 20772. You must pay the $165 filing fee or file the waiver request at the time you file your complaint or petition.

    14. What is a summons?

    A summons is a document from the Circuit Court that informs the defendant that a complaint has been filed against her/him. The Court does not serve the party. The summons is mailed to the plaintiff so that it can be served on the defendant.

    15. What is a show cause order?

    A show cause order is issued by the Circuit Court, directing a plaintiff or defendant to appear in court to testify and present evidence as to why the Court should not issue a specific order.

    16. What does service mean?

    Service means that the defendant is notified that a complaint has been filed against her/him.

    17. How do I get the other party served?

    Service can be done through private process (someone 18 years or older who does not have an interest in the case), certified mail with restricted delivery, or the Sheriff’s Office. Attention! YOU CANNOT serve the other party yourself. Read the pamphlet, How Do I Serve the Other Party? for more specific instructions on service.

    18. How long does the server have to serve the other party?

    The server has 60 days from the date the summons was issued to complete the service.


    19. What do I do if I can’t locate the other party?

    You must attempt to locate the other party through various ways, such as their place of employment, motor vehicle administration, telephone books, the internet, friends and family, etc.

    20. What do I do if the other party is avoiding service?

    You can file a motion for alternate service.

    21. Does the server have to do anything after she/he serves the other party?

    The server must complete an Affidavit of Service for private process or certified mail.

    22. What is an Affidavit of Service?

    The Affidavit of Service is a statement made under oath that the other party was served.

    23. What happens after the other party is served?

    If the other party lives in Maryland, she/he has 30 days to answer your complaint. If the other party lives outside the state, she/he has 60 days, and if she/he lives outside the country, she/he has 90 days to answer your complaint.

    24. What do I do if I receive a summons?

    If you live in Maryland, you have 30 days after the date you were served to answer the complaint. If you live outside the state, you have 60 days, and if you live outside the country, you have 90 days to answer the complaint.

    25. What is an answer?

    An Answer is a written response to the allegations made in a Complaint, Petition, or Motion. It must be signed by the responding party and the original filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court, with a copy sent to the party who filed the Complaint, Petition, or Motion.

    26. What happens when the other party answers the complaint?

    The court reviews the answer. If the answer is properly submitted, the court will schedule a hearing or a scheduling conference.

    27. What is a scheduling conference?

    A Scheduling Conference is a meeting between the Plaintiff, Defendant, their attorneys, and a case manager to identify the areas in contention, such as custody, visitation, and marital property. In order to help the Court make the best possible decision, the case manager will set the remaining Court dates and refer the parties to appropriate services to resolve conflicts or allegations.

    28. What if the other party does not file an answer?

    The other party can elect whether or not to answer the petition. However, if you wish to proceed with your case, you can file a DomRel 54, Request for an Order of Default.

    29. What is an Order of Default?

    By filing for a default, you are telling the Court that the other party was properly served, that the other party did not file an Answer, and you still wish to proceed with your case. Once the Order of Default is issued, the defendant has 30 days to respond and explain why they did not answer the initial Complaint and/or why the Order of Default should not proceed. If the Defendant does not respond to the Order of Default, the case will be scheduled for an uncontested hearing. If the defendant responds, the response will determine how the case is to be scheduled.

    30. Can I ask for an interpreter?

    You can request an interpreter no less than 10 days prior to the scheduled court date. Call the Information and Referral Center, 301-780-8000 or complete the Request/Cancellation for Interpreter online at

    31. How will I know when I have a hearing?

    You will receive a notice in the mail from the Court. The notice will be sent to the mailing address you provided to the court. The notice will show the date and time of your hearing.

    32. What do I do the day of the hearing?

    On the day of your hearing, you should arrive on time with a copy of your complaint and your notice of hearing. If your case requires it, you must also bring a witness to testify at your hearing. Register at the Information and Referral Center before entering the courtroom. An interpreter will be available if you requested one.

    33. What if I can’t attend the date of my hearing?

    You must notify the court, in writing, BEFORE the date of your hearing. Explain the reason(s) why you cannot attend and request a new hearing date. The judge may or may not issue a new hearing date.

    34. What do I do if I need to get a protective order for domestic violence or child abuse?

    You can file for a protective order for domestic violence in the District Court of Maryland in Hyattsville, room 200A or in Upper Marlboro, room 168B. You can also file in the Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro, room M0415. After normal business hours, you can file at the Commissioner’s Office at the Hyattsville Courthouse or at the Upper Marlboro Courthouse.

    35. What if I need an emergency hearing for custody, visitation, or support?

    You can obtain the form to file for an emergency hearing in the Family Division Paralegal Office, room M0416, ground floor in the Upper Marlboro Courthouse. Petitions are not accepted after 3:15pm because the emergency courtroom closes at 4:30pm.

    36. When my spouse/partner and I split up, who has legal custody of our children?

    No one has legal custody until one of the parties pursues a custody case and obtains a court order of custody.

    37. Can I get my name changed to my maiden name through a divorce?

    Yes. If you are the plaintiff, you can ask the Court to change your name to you maiden name by checking the appropriate box on the divorce form. If you are the defendant, you can ask the court to change your name to your maiden name by filing a counter complaint.

    38. Can I decide not to go through with the case I started?

    You can request, in writing, that the Court dismiss your case.

    39. What do I do if I want to make a change in custody, visitation, or child support?

    To make a change to a court order, you must file a motion to modify and the fee is $25. You can get the forms and instructions from the Family Division Information and Referral Center. You can also access and print the forms and instructions from

    40. What do I do if the other party is not following the judgment or order of custody, visitation, or child support? 

    You can file a petition for contempt. You can get the forms with instructions from the Family Division Information and Referral Center. You can also access and print the forms with instructions from

    41. Where do I call with questions about child support?

    For questions about starting a case, you can call the Family Division Information and Referral Center, 301-780-8000. For questions about child support enforcement, you can call the Office of Child Support Enforcement, 1-800-723-9937.

    The Circuit Court for
    Prince George’s County
    Welcomes All –
    A Fair Forum for Justice

    Image of: Honorable Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams

    The Honorable
    Sheila R. Tillerson Adams
    Administrative Judge
    Seventh Judicial Circuit and
    Circuit Court for
    Prince George’s County