Vermont regulates domestic violence under the state's domestic relations and abuse prevention statutes. Vermont domestic violence laws define "abuse" as causing physical harm, placing another in fear of imminent serious physical harm, abuse to children, stalking, or sexual assault between family or household members. "Household members" are persons who are living or have lived together, are sharing or have shared a dwelling place, are engaged in or have engaged in a sexual relationship, or minors or adults who are dating or who have dated.
Domestic Abuse Protection Order
Obtaining a protective order is often the best step to secure abuse protection. Under Vermont domestic violence laws, a "protection order" is defined as any injunction or order issued for the purpose of preventing violent or threatening acts towards another person. This also includes any contact or communication with that person. Any family or household member may seek relief from abuse by another family member by filing a complaint containing a signed affidavit with the court.
Notice and Hearing
In order to protect the defendant's due process rights, a judge may only grant relief after proper notice and a hearing. However, there are certain cases where emergency relief can be granted before the hearing.
At this hearing, the plaintiff must prove the abuse to the court. The judge may grant a protective order if it is necessary to protect the plaintiff and, if applicable, the plaintiff's children. The court must also believe that either there is a danger of future abuse by the defendant, or the defendant has been convicted for one of the following crimes:
lewd or lascivious conduct involving a child(ren).
If a court finds that these elements exist, a protective order will usually be granted. The protective order may include instructions that require the defendant to:
Refrain from abusing the plaintiff or the plaintiff's children;
Refrain from interfering with the personal liberties of the plaintiff or the plaintiff's children
Refrain from coming within a fixed distance of the plaintiff, the plaintiff's children, the plaintiff's residence, or the plaintiff's place of employment.
Immediately vacate the household and that the plaintiff be awarded sole possession of a residence;
Abide by a temporary award ruling of parental rights and responsibilities;
Pay the plaintiff's living expenses (if necessary);
Relinquish possession, care, and control of a family pet; and
Return personal documentation in his or her possession, (i.e. immigration documentation, birth certificates, and identification cards)
A judge may provide emergency relief if the plaintiff will be in immediate danger while waiting for the hearing. If a judge determines that there is an immediate danger of future abuse, an order may be granted requiring the defendant to refrain from abusing the plaintiff, interfering with the plaintiff's personal liberties, or coming within a fixed distance of the plaintiff and the plaintiff's place of work and residence. This order can also protect the plaintiff's children.
If a court finds that the plaintiff has no other place to seek shelter, the defendant may also be forced to vacate the premises of a shared home. If necessary, the court can award temporary custody of any minor children to the plaintiff or a safer place.
Enforcement of a Protection Order
After obtaining a protection order, making sure that the orders are enforced can be an ongoing process to ensure abuse protection. In Vermont, law enforcement officers are authorized to enforce orders issued by a court. Enforcement by an law officer may include:
Making an arrest;
Assisting the recipient obtain sole possession of a residence upon court order;
Assisting the recipient obtain sole custody of children upon court order;
Domestic Assault Charges
Under Vermont criminal laws, any person who willfully or recklessly causes bodily injury to a family or household member can be charged with domestic assault. The crime also includes causing the plaintiff to fear any imminent serious bodily injury or any attempt to cause bodily injury upon the plaintiff.
A domestic assault conviction is punishable by up to 18 months in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. Vermont also provides a first and second degree of aggravated domestic assault which increases the fines and penalties
Getting Legal Help
If you are a victim of domestic violence, immediately call 911 during any emergency. If you're facing a domestic assault charge and require additional legal assistance, you should contact an experienced Vermont criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Remember to tell your attorney what happened, whether there's a protection order, and if you have guns.
Contact a qualified attorney.