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Legal Information: Vermont

Restraining Orders

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December 13, 2019

What is a sexual assault or stalking protective order?

A sexual assault or stalking protective order is a civil court order, which can protect you from someone who is not a family member or household member who has stalked or sexually assaulted you.  A household member is generally defined as someone who you live/d with, have/had a sexual relationship with, or someone you date/d, for any period of time.2  If a family member or household member has stalked or sexually assaulted you, you may be eligible for a relief from abuse order instead.   For more information, see the Relief from Abuse Orders section.

1 VT ST T. 12 § 5133(a)
2 VT ST T. 15 § 1101(2)

What is the definition of stalking in Vermont?

Stalking is when someone repeatedly (at least 2 times) follows, monitors, surveils or threatens you, makes threats about you, or interferes with your property. These actions can be done directly or indirectly (through another person) and by using a device or through any other actions.1 The stalker must know or should know that his/her actions would reasonably cause you to:

  • fear for your safety or your family member’s safety; or
  • suffer substantial emotional harm. This “substantial emotional harm” can be shown by:
    • your fear of unlawful sexual conduct, unlawful restraint, bodily injury, or death; or
    • significant changes that you have made in your actions or routines, including:
      • moving from your home;
      • changing your daily routes to and from work even though it causes a serious disruption in your life;
      • changing your job or your work schedule; or
      • losing a job or losing time from work.2

1 VT ST T. 12 § 5131(1)(A)
2 VT ST T. 12 § 5131(6)

What is the definition of sexual assault in Vermont?

For the purpose of getting this protective order, “sexual assault” is defined as when the abuser commits one of the following crimes against you - however, s/he does not have to be arrested for the crime and it does not have to be reported to the police for you to file for this protective order.  His/her actions, however, must match the description of one of the crimes below – click on each crime to read its definition:

1 VT ST T. 12 § 5131(5)

What types of protective orders are available? How long do they last?

There are two types of protective orders - the temporary ex parte order and the final order.

Temporary ex parte order
You can file a complaint and affidavit (sworn statement) for a temporary protective order during regular court hours.  If the judge believes that the abuser/defendant stalked or sexually assaulted you, the judge can give you a temporary ex parte protective order without prior notice to the abuser/defendant.  A temporary protective order can state that the abuser has to stay away from you and/or your children and can include any other terms to protect the safety of you and/or your children.1

Final protective order against stalking or sexual assault
Every order will give a date (within the next 14 days), a time, and the place that the defendant can appear to petition the court to modify (change) or to dismiss the order.  At this court hearing, you will have to prove that the defendant stalked or sexually assaulted you to get the protective order continued.2  If the defendant was convicted criminally of sexual assault, the judge can issue a protection order without considering whether or not the defendant poses a risk of future harm.  However, if s/he was not convicted criminally of sexual assault, the judge must believe that s/he sexually assaulted you and that there is a danger of further harm to you.  The judge can consider the defendant’s past behavior as relevant evidence of future harm but, in general, the judge cannot consider evidence about your reputation or your past sexual conduct (although there are exceptions).3

If necessary, the judge can add additional protections to the final order.  At this hearing, the abuser/defendant has the right to offer evidence to prove that s/he did not stalk or sexually assault you.  Both you and the abuser can offer witnesses, testimony, and other evidence to prove your case.  You may want to be represented by a lawyer at this hearing, especially if the abuser has one.  Go to our VT Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal referrals.

Final protective orders against stalking or sexual assault will be for a fixed period of time, which will be stated in the order.  The order can be extended, however.  For more information, see Can the order be changed or extended?

1 VT ST T. 12 § 5134(a)
2 VT ST T. 12 § 5134(b)
3 VT ST T. 12 § 5133(d)(1),(c)

What protections can I get in a sexual assault or stalking protective order?

A sexual assault or stalking protective order can order the abuser to stay away from you and/or your children.1 Under Vermont law, “stay away” means that the offender cannot:

  • be physically close to you; or
  • have nonphysical contact with you directly or through a third person (regardless of whether or not the third person knows about the order).2Note: “Nonphysical contact” means s/he cannot contact you in writing, or through telephone calls, mail, e-mail, social media commentary or comments, or other electronic communication or fax.3

The judge can also order anything else that the judge believes is necessary to protect you and/or your children.1

1 VT ST T. 12 § 5133(d)
2 VT ST T. 12 § 5131(7)
3 VT ST T. 12 § 5131(3)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.