Vermont law provides protection from abuse in families and other close relationships, including in marriage and civil unions. There is special protection offered by Vermont's Abuse Prevention Act.

The court staff has information about how to request a relief from abuse order and how to contact an abuse prevention worker in your community. You can also connect with a local crisis worker through the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The crisis worker can arrange to have someone other than an attorney go with you to court, and they can tell you about services available in your area.

WATCH:Understanding Your Relief From Abuse Hearing Video (ASL Version)

When Is a Relief From Abuse Order Authorized?

To get a court order for relief from abuse (RFA), you must show the court that the defendant is a family member or household member, that the defendant has abused you or your children, and that there is a danger of further abuse if an RFA is not issued.

Abuse is defined as one or more of the following:

  • Attempting to cause or causing physical harm
  • Placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm
  • Abuse to children, as defined in the child protection statutes
  • Stalking, as defined in the stalking statute
  • Sexual assault, as defined in the stalking statute

Household members means people who, for any period of time

  • are living or have lived together,
  • are sharing or have shared a dwelling,
  • are in or have been in a sexual relationship, or
  • are dating or have dated.

Dating means a social relationship of a romantic nature. In deciding whether you meet the definition of dating, courts consider:

  • The nature of the relationship
  • The length of the relationship
  • The frequency of your interaction with the other person
  • The length of time since the relationship ended

If you don't qualify for an RFA order because the other person isn't a household member or family member, you may consider filing a request for an order against stalking.

How to File a Request for Relief From Abuse

You may request a Relief From Abuse (RFA) order using this RFA Complaint. You can also pick up the forms at the family court division. You can file the request at any court location if you have fled your home to avoid abuse. For the locations of Vermont courts, click here.

The person who requests a relief from abuse is known as the plaintiff. The person against whom the order is issued is known as the defendant. You can file a request for an RFA order for yourself, your children, or both. You can file a request for an RFA order if you are 16 years of age or older. If you are in a dating relationship, you may file at any age. A dating relationship is a social relationship of a romantic nature. These are the forms you need to file:

After Hours

If you need to request an order when the court is closed, you can contact law enforcement or the court's answering service at 1-800-540-9990. The answering service will contact court staff, and they will contact you for more details about your situation.

What Happens After Filing a Request for Emergency Relief

Once you file your request for emergency relief, your complaint and affidavit are given to the judge for expedited review.

If Your Request Is Granted

If the judge grants your request for emergency relief, the judge will issue a temporary order with details on the type of restrictions the defendant will need to follow.

The court staff will set a hearing date within 10 court days of the order date. You will receive a copy of the temporary order (with the hearing date and time), your complaint, and affidavit. A copy of the paperwork you filed will be sent by the court to the defendant. The case will go forward as scheduled as long as the defendant is served before the hearing date.

If you, as plaintiff, fail to appear for the hearing, the case will be dismissed. The temporary order expires on the day of the hearing.

If Your Request Is Denied

The judge may deny your request for relief if the information you provided does not meet the requirements for an order to be issued. If this happens, you may ask to provide additional information to support your request.

You have the right to ask for a hearing within five business days of the denial to pursue your request for an emergency order. Or you can withdraw your request by completing and filing an Intent to Pursue or Withdraw Complaint form. If you do not file this form, the court will assume that you have withdrawn your request. The court will close your case without any further action. The documents you filed will be kept confidential.

To request a hearing, you must complete and file an Intent to Pursue or Withdraw Complaint form. Remember that there is no order in place until a hearing is held, and unless the court issues an order.

The court will set a hearing date and send a copy of your Complaint, Affidavit, Relief From Abuse Order, and Intent to Pursue form, as well as a copy of the denial for service on the defendant. The case will go forward as scheduled as long as the defendant is served before the hearing date. If you fail to appear for the hearing, the case will be dismissed.

Preparing for Your RFA Hearing

If You Are a Plaintiff

If you filed the request for relief from abuse (RFA), you are the plaintiff. You must be at court no later than the time on your notice. This is your opportunity to present information from you and your witnesses to the court. If you do not come to the hearing, your request for a final RFA order will be dismissed. Any temporary order will expire on that day.

You can arrange in advance for an advocate from your local domestic abuse program to be with you in court. The court may not allow the advocate to speak during the hearing.

If you want to get child support please tell the judge at the hearing. The maximum amount of time that child support can be ordered in a relief from abuse case is 90 days.

If You Are a Defendant

If you have been served with a temporary order for relief from abuse, or with a notice of hearing, you are the defendant.

Before the hearing date, you have the right to ask the judge to change the restrictions of the order. You need to make this request in writing by filing a Motion to Modify Temporary Relief From Abuse Order.

You must be at court no later than the time on your notice. This is your opportunity to present information from you and your witnesses to the court. If you do not come to the hearing, the court will grant a final order if the plaintiff's testimony supports it. You won't get a chance to give the court your side of the story.

You can request to take part in the hearing by phone if you are in jail or live far away. You must file your request in writing before the hearing.

Your ability to hold certain jobs, have firearms and ammunition, or keep your immigration status may be affected if a final order is granted. If you have questions about the federal Gun Control Act or other laws, you may want to consult with a lawyer.

For Both of You

You may need to get clothes or other personal items from the home before the hearing. If the order allows it, you must make those arrangements with your local police or sheriff. Police officers and sheriffs may charge for their services.

You may want to talk to or hire a lawyer. If you have a lawyer in another active family division case, you should talk to your lawyer before the hearing.

If there are adult witnesses to the abuse, you may want to bring them to testify at the hearing. The judge may not accept written statements from people not in court, and may not allow them to testify by telephone.

If you have a child (or children) with the other person, think about parent–child contact (visitation). Be ready to suggest a schedule that will work for your child. Think about whether you want to do drop-offs and pickups without having to see the other person. It is important to take some time before the hearing to prepare a plan.

If you are going to ask for supervised parent–child contact, you will need to tell the judge why this is in your child’s best interest. You may suggest a person to supervise drop-offs, pickups, or visits. Check with that person before the hearing. Some communities have programs that offer a safe place for parents to do drop-offs and pickups or visits. You can ask the court whether there is a program in your community.

Orders in a relief from abuse cases are not meant to be long term. You will need to file a separate case to get orders about custody, visitation, and child support (unless there already is one). To get final orders about property ownership, you will need to file a divorce, separation, or civil union dissolution case if you are married or have a civil union. The family division cannot issue a final order about property if you are not married or in a civil union. You will need to file a case in the civil division.

If you need help with English or sign language, please contact the court right away. A special video is available that may assist you.

The Day of the Hearing

You should arrive at the time on the notice. Courts will provide separate areas for plaintiffs and defendants if possible.

Do not expect to talk to each other before the hearing.

An educational video will help you get ready for your hearing. Both parties will watch the video separately.

You should bring your paperwork with you.

You may want to have paper and a pen to take notes.

You may bring a support person to the hearing. The judge will decide whether that person will be allowed to sit with you or speak to the judge. The person is welcome to watch the educational video with you.

If you are bringing exhibits (papers or pictures related to your case), bring a copy for the court, one for the other person in the case, and one to keep. If you are bringing a tape recording, also bring the equipment needed to play it. The judge may not allow what you bring to become part of the case.

You can find general information about going to court here.

There is no child care available at the courthouse. Also, children are not allowed in the courtroom. Please arrange for someone to care for your child (or children) during the hearing.

Information for Plaintiffs About the Effects of an RFA Order

The court has issued a final order intended to protect you from abuse. If the defendant violates the order, contact law enforcement.

Service: Usually, the defendant receives a copy of the final order at the end of the hearing. If the defendant was not at the hearing, it is the court’s responsibility to have law enforcement serve the final order on the defendant. If the defendant is not personally served, the order will not be enforceable, and your safety could be at risk.

Enforcement: All orders forbid the defendant from abusing you and/or your children. Depending on what your order says, the defendant may not contact you or be near you, your home, work, school, or vehicle, or your children. Immediately report any violations of the order to law enforcement. They will help you enforce your order. Keep a copy of the order with you.

Coverage: All law enforcement officers can check a nationwide list to see whether your order is in effect and what its terms are. Your order is enforceable throughout the state and the country.

Understanding your order: You need to read your order and understand it. The order is only against the defendant. This means that only the defendant can violate the order. Do not encourage contact with the defendant if the defendant is ordered not to contact you. Any criminal case against the defendant is separate from this RFA case. This order will not change conditions of release or probation conditions against the defendant that have been issued. A change or dismissal of this RFA order does not change the defendant’s conditions of release or probation conditions.

Changes to the order: Only the court can change or dismiss the order. You or the defendant can request a change to the order in writing by filing a Motion to Modify/Extend/Vacate Relief From Abuse Order. The judge may schedule a hearing before making any changes to an existing order.

Communication: If your order prevents contact between you and the defendant, the judge must change the order before the defendant may have contact with you.

Personal belongings: Your order may allow you or the defendant to pick up personal belongings from the home. That should happen only in the way the order allows. Contact your local law enforcement for help. You may have to pay for this service.

Expiration: Please note the expiration date of your order on the first and last pages. If you want to extend the order beyond the expiration date, you must file a written request with the court. Be sure to file it a few weeks before the order ends.

Children: You will need to file a parentage, divorce, separation, or civil union dissolution case if you want any long-term orders. Any custody or visitation terms in this RFA order will end when the order expires.

Property: To get final orders about property rights or ownership, you will need to file a divorce, separation, or civil union dissolution case if you are married or have a civil union. If you are not married or in a civil union, to get a final order about property ownership, you will need to file a small claims or civil case in the civil division.

Information for Defendants About the Effects of an RFA Order

The court has issued a final relief from abuse order. You can be charged with a crime in criminal court if you violate this order.

Understanding your order: You need to read the order and understand exactly what it says so that you do not violate it. If you do not understand it, you may wish to get legal help. Keep a copy with you.

Enforcement: The order is only against you. Only you can violate it. If you do, you can be arrested. The order will be enforced by law enforcement.

What to do: If accidental contact happens (usually in a public place), get away from the situation immediately. If the order does not allow telephone contact and the plaintiff calls you, hang up the phone.

Changes to the order: Only the court can change or dismiss the order. You or the plaintiff can request a change to the order in writing by filing a Motion to Modify/Extend/Vacate Relief From Abuse Order . The judge may schedule a hearing before making any changes to an existing order.

Coverage: All law enforcement officers can check a nationwide list to see if the order is in effect and what its terms are. Your order is enforceable throughout the state and country.

Criminal orders: Any criminal case against you is separate from this RFA case. This order (or its dismissal) will not change conditions of release or probation conditions against you.

Firearms: If you buy, have, or own firearms or ammunition, you may be charged with a federal crime. If you have any questions about this, you may wish to get legal help.

Immigration: If you are not a U.S. citizen, the order may affect your right to remain in this country. If you are a citizen, it may affect your right to travel outside the country. You may wish to get legal help.

Personal belongings: Your order may allow you to pick up personal belongings from the home. That should happen only in the way the order allows. Contact your local law enforcement for help. You may have to pay for this service.

Expiration: This order will remain in effect until the expiration date on the first and last pages. It will be enforced as written until it expires.

Children: You will need to file a parentage, divorce, separation, or civil union dissolution case if you want any long-term orders. Any custody or visitation terms in the RFA order will end when the order expires, unless also included in a final divorce, parentage, or dissolution order.

Property: To get final orders about property rights or ownership, you will need to file a divorce, separation, or civil union dissolution case if you are married or have a civil union. If you are not married or in a civil union, to get a final order about property ownership, you will need to file a small claims or civil case in the civil division.