What is the legal definition of domestic violence?
This section defines domestic violence for the purposes of getting a domestic violence restraining order.
U.S. Virgin Islands defines domestic violence as the attempt, threat, or act of:
- false imprisonment;
- destruction of property;
- unlawful sexual contact;
- coercion (forcing/pressuring/intimidating you into doing something);
- burglary/forcible or unlawful entry;
- assault/battery; and/or
- violation of a restraining order.1
1 VI ST T. 16 § 91(b)
What is a domestic violence restraining order? How long does it last?
A restraining order (also called a domestic violence restraining order or DVRO) is a civil court order that is designed to stop violent behavior and keep the abuser away from you. There are two types of restraining orders in the U.S. Virgin Islands:
An ex parte/temporary restraining order (also called a TRO) is a court order designed to provide you and your family members with immediate protection from the abuser. A judge may issue a temporary restraining order on the day you file for your permanent restraining order if s/he believes it is necessary to protect the life, health or wellbeing of you or your child. An ex parte/temporary restraining order is usually issued without prior notice to the abuser and without the abuser present (“ex parte”). A temporary restraining order will protect you from the time you file until your full court hearing takes place, usually within 10 days. Note: At any point within those 10 days, the abuser can file in court to modify or dismiss that order and the judge may hold a hearing about this issue with both you and the abuser present. However, you are only required to get 24 hours’ prior notice of that hearing.1
A permanent restraining order (also called a PRO) offers the same type of protection as an ex parte/temporary restraining order, but it lasts longer and is generally issued after a hearing in which both you and the abuser can be present. In this hearing, the abuser will have a chance to defend him/herself. A permanent restraining order lasts up to two years. You can ask the court to extend the order for another year, but you must do so before it expires.2 (See How do I modify or extend my order?)
1 VI ST T. 16 § 98(a),(b),(d)
2 VI ST T. 16 § 97(a),(d)
What protections can I get in a domestic violence restraining order?
Both a temporary restraining order) and a permanent restraining order) can:
1. order the abuser:
- to not commit any act of domestic violence against you, as defined here;
- to have no contact with you;
- to stay away from your home, workplace, business, or school;
- not to harass you or your relatives in any way;
- to give you possession of the home and exclude the abuser from the home (if you both jointly own or lease the home); if the abuser is the sole owner or lessee, s/he can still be excluded from the home if s/he has a duty to support you or your children who are living in the home – or, if you both agree, the abuser can provide you with alternate (other) housing;
- not to sell or get rid of property that you own or lease together;
- to be escorted into your home to get his/her things by a police officer or marshal (or you can be escorted by the police to remove your personal belongings);
- to pay you for any losses you have suffered as a result of the domestic violence (including paying money you lost due to injuries, moving expenses, your attorney’s fees, and loss of earnings); and/or
- to seek counseling or attend a batterers’ treatment program; and
2. grant you:
- temporary child custody (and establish visitation rights while taking necessary steps to protect the safety of you and your children);
- temporary child support;
- temporary possession of any personal property you need (such as car, checkbook, keys, etc.).1
Whether the judge orders these things or not depends on the facts of your case.
1 VI ST T. 16 §§ 97(b); 98(b)
Where can I file for a protective order?
You can file for a protective order in the judicial division where you live (permanently or temporarily), where the abuser lives, or where the abuse occurred.1 If you are unsure how to figure out the boundaries of a judicial division, you may want to contact an attorney who is familiar with the local laws. Please see our VI Finding a Lawyer page for more information. Also, if you have left your home and want to keep the address where you are staying confidential, filing in that judicial division may not be a good idea since it could alert the abuser to the fact that you are staying in that area.
1 VI ST T. 16 § 96(a)
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.