Step 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 an ex parte 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 an ex parte 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.
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 Advocates and Shelters.
Step 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 Advocates and Shelters 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.
Step 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 will set a date for a hearing for the final order. 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 14 days of your filing your complaint.1
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:
- attempted murder;
- domestic assault;
- aggravated domestic assault;
- sexual assault;
- aggravated sexual assault;
- aggravated stalking;
- lewd or lascivious conduct with child; or
- use of a child in a sexual performance, or consenting to a sexual performance.2
1 VT ST T. 15 § 1104(b)
2 VT ST T. 15 § 1103(c)(1)
Step 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.1
Do not try and serve the abuser in person with the papers yourself.
1VT ST T. 15 § 1105(a)
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Step 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.1
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 At the Hearing section for ways that you can show the judge that you were abused. You can learn more about the court system in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section.