En Español
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws: Vermont

UPDATED March 29, 2017

Relief from Abuse Orders

Print this page
View by Section

A relief from abuse order is a civil order that provides protection from a family or household member.

Basic information

back to topWhat is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Vermont?

This section defines domestic abuse for the purposes of getting a relief from abuse order.  Domestic abuse means the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members:

  • attempting to cause or causing physical harm;
  • placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm;
  • abuse to children;
  • stalking; or
  • sexual assault.*

* 15 VT ST T. § 1101

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat is a relief from abuse order?

A relief from abuse order is a court order that is designed to stop violent, harassing and threatening behavior.  It can also stop the abuser from any contact or communication with you, and protect you and your family from the abuser.*

* 15 VT ST T. § 1101

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat types of relief from abuse orders are available? How long do they last?

There are temporary relief from abuse orders and permanent relief from abuse orders.

In general, a temporary relief from abuse order offers you protection from the time you file your complaint until the court hearing that you must have in order to receive a permanent relief from abuse order, which usually takes place within 10 days.  Temporary relief from abuse orders can be granted if the judge believes that defendant has abused you and/or your children and that there is a danger of further abuse.*  To read more about what types of protection you can get in a temporary relief from abuse order, go to How can a relief from abuse order protect me?

The temporary relief from abuse order can be an ex parte order, which means it is given without the knowledge of the abuser or his/her presence in the courtroom.  However, s/he will know about it when the court "serves" him/her with (gives him a copy of) the order, and the order is not enforceable until it is served.  Note: If the judge denies your request for an ex parte temporary order, you are supposed to be notified of the judge's reasons for the denial in writing.  You will then have 5 business days to request that the court still hold a hearing within 10 days for you to request a permanent order.  The abuser will be notified and have a chance to appear in court to object to the order.**

A permanent relief from abuse order is designed to offer you longer-lasting and more comprehensive protection than a temporary relief from abuse order.  A permanent relief from abuse order can be issued only after the abuser receives notice of the hearing, and you and the abuser both have a chance to tell your sides of the story.  You can present evidence and witnesses to prove you were abused and it may be best to be represented by a lawyer, especially if the abuser has one.  Go to our VT Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal referrals.  Most relief from abuse orders expire after one year, but you may be able to have it extended.***  Please see our Can a relief from abuse order be modified (changed) or extended? page for more information.

If you don't qualify for a relief from abuse order, you can get more information about stalking and sexual assault prevention orders on our page called I was not granted a relief from abuse order. Is there another order I can get?

* VT ST T. 15 § 1104(a)
** V.R.F.P. Rule 9(e)
*** VT ST T. 15 § 1103(e)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow can a relief from abuse order protect me?

A temporary relief from abuse order can:

  • order the abuser to stop abusing and interfering with the personal liberty of you and/or your children;
  • order the abuser to stay a certain distance away from you, your children, your home, and your work;
  • order the abuser to not mistreat or kill any animal (pet) owned or possessed by you, the defendant, or a minor child living in the household;
  • If the abuser forced you and/or your children out of the home and you have no where to go, the judge can order the defendant to immediately leave the home and order that you have sole possession of the home; and
  • grant you temporary custody of your children if the judge believes that there is an immediate danger of physical or emotional harm to the children.*
A permanent relief from abuse order can:
  • order the abuser to stop contacting you and/or your children;
  • order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your children, your work, children's school or other locations you specify;
  • order the abuser to stop abusing and interfering with the personal liberty of you and/or your children;
  • order the abuser to immediately leave the home you share with him/her and give you sole possession of the home;
  • award temporary rights and responsibilities (temporary custody) of minor children to you and give the defendant parent-child contact under such conditions as are necessary to protect the you and/or the children from abuse;
  • order the abuser to pay you spousal support for up to three months;
  • order the abuser to pay you child support for up to three months;
  • decide the possession, care and control of any animal owned or kept by you, the abuser, or a child in the home;
  • order that the defendant return to you any personal documentation in his/her possession, including immigration documentation, birth certificates, and identification cards for you and/or your children;** and
  • anything else you need to keep you and/or your children safe.
Whether a judge orders any or all of the above depends on the facts of your case.

* VT ST T. 15 § 1104(a)
** VT ST T. 15 § 1103(c)(2)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topIn which county can I file for a relief from abuse order?

You can file a petition in the county where you live.  If you’ve left home to avoid further abuse, you can file the petition in the county where you lived previously, or in the county where you currently live.*  However, if you are trying to keep your address confidential, filing in the county where you have fled to would likely not be a good idea since it would alert the abuser to the fact that you are living in that county.

* VT ST T. 15 § 1102(c)

Did you find this information helpful?

Who can get a relief from abuse order

back to topAm I eligible for a relief from abuse order?

You can be eligible to file for a relief from abuse order if you have been abused by a family or household member, which includes any of the following:

  • someone with whom you are living with or have lived;
  • someone with whom you share or have shared a home;
  • someone with whom you are having or used have a sexual relationship;
  • someone you are dating or have dated (Note: "Dating" is defined as a social relationship of a romantic nature);
  • a spouse or former spouse; or
  • a family member, related by blood or marriage.*

A minor of any age who is in a dating relationship can file against a dating partner.  However, to file in one of the other categories, the minor must be at least 16 years old to file on his/her own.**  

Note: When deciding whether to give you an order, a judge must believe that the defendant has abused you and/or your children and either:

  • there is a danger of further abuse; or
  • the abuser is currently incarcerated and has been convicted of one of the following:
    • murder;
    • attempted murder;
    • kidnapping;
    • domestic assault;
    • aggravated domestic assault;
    • sexual assault;
    • aggravated sexual assault;
    • stalking;
    • aggravated stalking;
    • lewd or lascivious conduct with child; or
    • use of a child in a sexual performance, or consenting to a sexual performance.***

* VT ST T. 15 § 1103(a)
** VT ST T. 15 § 1104(a)
*** VT ST T. 15 § 1103(c)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan a minor file for an order?

Yes.  A minor of any age who is/was in a dating relationship can file against a dating partner.  However, to file in one of the other categories, the minor must be at least 16 years old to file on his/her own.  If s/he is younger than 16, his/her parent (or legal guardian) can file for him/her.*  

* VT ST T. 15 §§ 1103(a), 1104(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan I get a relief from abuse order against my same-sex partner?

In Vermont, you may apply for a relief from abuse order against a current or former same-sex partner as long as the relationship meets the requirements listed in Am I eligible for a relief from abuse order?  You must also be the victim of an act of domestic abuse, which is explained here What is the legal definition of domestic abuse in Vermont?

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topHow much does it cost to get a relief from abuse order?

There is no fee to file a relief from abuse order.*

* VT ST T. 15 § 1103(f)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topDo I need an attorney?

While it is not necessary to hire a lawyer to file for a relief from abuse case, it may be in your interest to hire an attorney, especially if the abuser is represented by one.  A domestic violence organization in your area may be able to refer you to an attorney or legal aid service that will take your case for free.  Go to our VT Finding a Lawyer page to find help in your area.

Did you find this information helpful?

Steps for getting a relief from abuse order

back to topStep 1: Go to the family court and request an application.

Go to the family division of the superior court (family court) in your area.  You can find a court near you by going to our VT Courthouse Locations page.

Find the court clerk and request a petition for a relief from abuse order, and also tell the clerk if you want a temporary relief from abuse order.  You can also find links to petitions online by going to our VT Download Court Forms page.

Weeknights and weekends, you can apply for a temporary relief from abuse order at your local police station.  You can call the after-hours temporary relief from abuse order telephone number: 800-540-9990.  A family court clerk will be in contact with either you or the police and usually will meet you at the police station.  In exceptionally dangerous circumstances or in cases of physical disabilities, other arrangements may be made with the family court clerk.  Note: You can only get a stalking or sexual assault relief from abuse order during regular business hours.

A domestic violence worker may be able to help you file the complaint both during business hours and after hours or you can go alone and get assistance from a court clerk.  To find a domestic violence organization in your area, see VT State and Local Programs.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 2: Fill out the application.

Carefully fill out the forms.  Write briefly about the most recent incident of violence, using descriptive language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, choking, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation.  Be specific.  Include details and dates, if possible.  A domestic violence organization may be able to provide you with help filling out the form.  See VT State and Local Programs for the location of an organization near you.

Note:  Do not sign the petition until you have shown it to a clerk, as the form may need to be notarized or signed in the presence of court personnel.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 3: A judge will review your application.

After you finish filling out your application, bring it to the court clerk.  The clerk will forward it to a judge.  The judge may wish to ask you questions as s/he reviews your petition.  The judge will decide whether or not to issue the temporary order, and if you seek a final order the judge will set a date for a hearing (assuming that your petition is not dismissed).  If a hearing is scheduled, you will be given papers that state the time and date of your hearing for a permanent relief from abuse order.  The hearing will take place within 10 days of your filing your complaint.

When deciding whether to give you an order, a judge must believe that the defendant has abused you and/or your children and either:

  • there is a danger of further abuse; or
  • the abuser is currently incarcerated and has been convicted of one of the following:
    • murder;
    • attempted murder;
    • kidnapping;
    • domestic assault;
    • aggravated domestic assault;
    • sexual assault;
    • aggravated sexual assault;
    • stalking;
    • aggravated stalking;
    • lewd or lascivious conduct with child; or
    • use of a child in a sexual performance, or consenting to a sexual performance.*

* VT ST T. 15 § 1103(c)(1)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 4: Service of process

The abuser must be served with a notice of hearing and with any temporary relief from abuse order that a judge has granted you.  Your relief from abuse order will not be valid until the abuser is served.  If your order is issued during normal business hours, the court clerk should forward your paperwork to law enforcement to serve the abuser.*

Do not try and serve the abuser in person with the papers yourself.

*VT ST T. 15 § 1105(a)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topStep 5: The hearing

Whether a judge grants you a temporary order or not, you may be given a court date for a hearing on your petition within ten business days (assuming that your petition is not dismissed).  The hearing will be in front of a judge, who will decide whether or not to give you a final relief from abuse order.*

It is very important that you attend the court hearing.  If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary order will expire and you will have to start the process over.  If you absolutely cannot attend, contact the court immediately and ask how you can get a "continuance" for a later court date.

If the abuser was served and does not attend the hearing, the court may issue a "default judgment" against him/her and you may receive a final relief from abuse order in his/her absence.  The judge also may decide to pick a new hearing date to give the abuser another chance to come to court.  If this happens, be sure to ask the judge to extend your temporary order if you have one.

At the hearing, you will have the chance to testify in court and present evidence and witnesses to prove the abuse and harassment you have experienced.  The abuser will also be allowed to be present evidence and testify in the hearing to defend himself/herself.  You may want to get a lawyer to represent you at that hearing, especially if you think the abuser will have one.  Go to our VT Finding a Lawyer page for a listing of free and paid lawyers.  If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, you can visit our Preparing Your Case section for ways that you can show the judge that you were abused.

Did you find this information helpful?

After the hearing

back to topI was not granted a relief from abuse order. Is there another order I can get?

If you were not granted an relief from abuse order because you are not considered a family or household member of the abuser, you may be able to get a stalking or sexual assault prevention order.  You can only file for a stalking or sexual assault prevention order for yourself or your child if you are filing against someone who is NOT a family or household member and one of the following crimes has been committed against you.

  • Stalking is when someone does two or more of the following acts:
    • following you;
    • lying in wait for you (hiding in order to attack or harm you); or
    • threatening behavior directed at you or a member of your family.
Note: The acts must serve no legitimate purpose and cause you to reasonably fear for your safety or cause you substantial emotional distress.* To file for a stalking or sexual assault relief from abuse order, you will need to go to the superior court in the county where you live.  If you leave your home to escape abuse, you have the option to file in the county where you used to live or in the county that you moved to.***

See our Sexual Assault or Stalking Protective Orders page for more information.

* VT ST T. 12 § 5131(1),(3),(6)
** VT ST T. 12 § 5131(5)
*** VT ST T. 12 § 5132

 

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat should I do when I leave the courthouse?

Here are some things you may want to consider doing.  However, you will have to evaluate each one to see if it works for your situation.

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse.   If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Make several copies of the order as soon as possible.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • You may want to leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at the children's school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work along with a photo of the abuser.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local law enforcement agency, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks (if permitted by law) and your phone number.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat can I do if the abuser violates the order?

You can call the police or sheriff, even if you think it is a minor violation. The abuser can be arrested, and fined, imprisoned or both.*

It is a good idea to write down the name of the responding officer(s) and their badge numbers in case you want to follow up on your case.

Make sure a police report is filled out, even if no arrest is made. If you have legal documentation of all violations of the order, it may help you have the order extended or modified in the future.

If the police do not believe there is enough evidence to arrest the abuser who has violated the order, you may file contempt of court charges against the abuser in the court where your order was issued.

* VT ST T. 13 § 1030

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topCan a relief from abuse order be modified (changed) or extended?

You can ask the court to modify or extend your relief from abuse order by filing a motion in the court where you received the order.  You can find the form online at the Vermont Judiciary website here.  You will have to attend a hearing to have an order extended or modified.  A judge may extend your order even if there were no incidents of abuse while you were protected by the order.  Only the judge, not your own actions or behavior, can change or cancel the relief from abuse order.

It is also be possible that the defendant (abuser) can file a motion to modify the parts of an ex parte relief from abuse order regarding child custody or possession of the home. If the judge thinks that the abuser has given "compelling" (convincing) reasons why the judge should change the order prior to the scheduled hearing date, the judge can schedule a hearing upon two days' notice (or less) to you to consider the abuser's request.*  At the hearing, you will have a chance to advocate to the judge why the order should not be changed.
 
* V.R.F.P. Rule 9(g)(1),(2)

Did you find this information helpful?

back to topWhat happens if I move?

Your relief from abuse order is good everywhere in the state.  If you move to a new county, you may want to contact the court clerk in that county to ask if you should file a copy of the order within your new county court.  If you choose to do so, be sure to tell the clerk if you need your address to be kept confidential.

Additionally, the federal law provides what is called "full faith and credit," which means that once you have a criminal or civil protection order, it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. territories and tribal lands.  Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders.  You can find out about your state’s policies by contacting a domestic violence program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your area.

To read more about how to get your relief from abuse order enforced in another state, or how to get an out of state order enforced in Vermont, please see our Moving to Another State with a Relief from Abuse Order page.

If you are moving out of state, you can call the domestic violence programs in the state where you are going to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders.

If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit (1-800-903-0111, ext. 2) for information on enforcing your order there.

Note: If you are looking to enforce a civil protective order on a military installation, or a military protective order off the installation, please see our Military Protective Orders page for more information.

Did you find this information helpful?

back to top