In Vermont, a Relief from Abuse Order (RFA) is a protection order which survivors of domestic violence can use to attempt to prevent further abuse. You can apply for a RFA if you have experienced abuse from a family member, intimate partner, or someone who you are living with. Under Vermont State Statute (15 V.S.A. § 1101), to count as domestic violence the abuser must be doing 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
You can apply for a RFA at the courthouse, on the Vermont Judiciary website, or after court hours via phone (1-800-540-9990). This “after-hours” option can be useful if you do not have access to transportation or require immediate assistance after business hours, and in this case a court clerk will transcribe your words. You are always welcome to contact Safeline for support with filling out your protection order paperwork. We cannot offer legal advice, but we can refer you to legal counsel and support you through the process.
The first step in filling out RFA paperwork is the “Complaint for Relief from Abuse” form (400-00150C). This form gives a brief summary of what you have experienced and why it is domestic violence. If you are filling out the RFA paperwork, you are the plaintiff. If you are filing a RFA on behalf of a minor and not for yourself, then you are the petitioner and the child is the plaintiff. The person who you are filling out paperwork against is the defendant. Sometimes an abuser might fill out a RFA as the plaintiff and so the plaintiff is not always a survivor of domestic violence. When an abuser uses the legal system to perpetuate further abuse like this that is legal abuse.
The second form to complete is the “Affidavit in Support of Relief from Abuse Complaint” (400-00151). This affidavit allows you to express in more detail the domestic violence which you have experienced. It can be helpful to remember the definition of domestic violence which the court is working with and to be as specific as possible. Focus on what you have experienced yourself—often testimony from others counts as heresy and is not admissible in court. You can attach extra sheets of paper to your affidavit if you need more space to answer any of the questions. Your affidavit will need to be signed in front of a court clerk.
The third form to complete is the “Protection Order Service Information” (DPS132). The information in this form will allow the police to find and identify the defendant if the Temporary RFA is approved. Any information that would be helpful is good to include.
The fourth and final form to complete is the “Confidential Notification for Relief from Abuse” form (400-00156)). RFA cases are confidential in the court. This form relates to internal courthouse matters. Whether you select “yes” or “no”, the courthouse will keep your information confidential from outside sources. However, if you select “no”, then your contact information in the RFA is kept confidential to your RFA even within the courthouse.
If you submit RFA paperwork at the Family Court window of the courthouse, then you will require photo identification. If you do not have access to a photo ID, then you can let the court know that you do not have access to photo identification because of the abuse which you are experiencing. At this point, the court will take your RFA paperwork so that a judge can look over it. There are no fees associated with submitting RFA paperwork. Let the court know if you have questions, or if you have witnesses or evidence to present at the hearing if the temporary order if approved.
After submitting the paperwork, a judge will look over your Complaint and the accompanying Affidavit. If they approve your Temporary RFA, the police will serve the documents to the defendant. A hearing date for a Final RFA will be included in the paperwork. In Orange County Vermont, Family Court is on Tuesdays starting at 9am.
If the Temporary RFA is approved, then you will be notified by the court (if you selected that option). If you are not contacted by the court within a couple days of submitting your order, it can be helpful to call the court to check in on the status of your paperwork. The approved Temporary RFA will be served to the defendant and a hearing date will be set. From the moment that the police serve the RFA paperwork to the defendant, the RFA is in effect. Any contact or conduct which goes against the Temporary RFA counts as a violation and should be reported to the police.
If the Temporary RFA is denied, then it will not be served and the information enclosed within will stay confidential. Thus, with a RFA, if the temporary is approved then there will be a hearing, and if it is denied then the defendant will never learn about it.
A Safeline advocate is present at the courthouse and via Webex to support plaintiffs during Family Court cases in Orange County. If your court case is in Windsor County and you’d like a Safeline advocate present, contact Safeline (1-800-639-7233). At the court hearing, there are several different ways that the hearing can go:
On the court date, both parties may agree to move forward with a contested hearing. If this occurs, you will have the chance to present your testimony, draw on evidence, and call on witnesses. Both plaintiff and defendant will have chance to present testimony to the judge. Based on the evidence presented, the judge will decide whether to accept or deny your Final RFA order request. A RFA is not a criminal case and does not result in penalties for the defendant, unless the defendant goes against the order and violates it
If the defendant would prefer not to provide testimony in court, they can accept the Final RFA as written and agree to “no findings”. In this case, there is no presentation of evidence, but the RFA is upheld
Defendant Does Not Attend:
If the defendant does not attend the hearing, then the hearing goes forward without the defendant’s testimony
Plaintiff or Both Parties Do Not Attend:
If the plaintiff or both parties do not attend the hearing then the Final RFA is denied
For more information on Relief from Abuse orders, contact Safeline. We are here to help however we can.