ROADMAP: Getting a Relief from Abuse (RFA) Order in Vermont

Go to the Final Hearing

Video: What happens at a final hearing for Relief from Abuse and after the hearing

At the final hearing, the court will hear from both you and the defendant to decide whether to give you a final Relief from Abuse order.

Even if you represent yourself, you can have a support person come with you to court. You can ask a friend, family member or an advocate from a domestic violence agency to come with you.

The court’s job in the Relief from Abuse hearing is to decide whether you have been abused and are in danger of further abuse from the defendant. The court decides this by “preponderance of the evidence.” This means you win if the court thinks it is more likely than not that you have been abused and are still in danger from the defendant. The definition of abuse in the Vermont RFA law is:

  • attempting to cause or causing physical harm
  • placing another person in fear of imminent serious physical harm
  • abusing children
  • stalking, or
  • sexual assault.

In many cases, the court will decide based on testimony from you, the defendant, and sometimes other witnesses. Testimony is usually the most important evidence in RFA cases.

Are there other witnesses to the abuse? Contact them and make sure they can come to your hearing and testify.

Sometimes an important witness may be unwilling to testify. In those cases, you can ask the court clerk for a “subpoena,” which is an order to show up and testify. An example of where this could be useful is if a police officer answered a 9-1-1 call about the abuse, but the police officer told you they could not go to court to talk about it without a subpoena.

Sometimes there may be other kinds of evidence (“exhibits”). For example:

  • You received threatening text messages from the defendant.
  • You saw a doctor after being physically abused and have medical records.
  • The defendant damaged your car and you took a picture.

Bring enough copies of any exhibits for yourself, the defendant, and the judge.

Prepare for your hearing. Practice answering questions from the judge, the defendant or their lawyer. The judge may ask you:

  1. What is your relationship to the defendant?
  2. What is the most recent incident that happened between you and the defendant?
  3. What is the most serious incident that happened between you and the defendant?

Be on time to the hearing. Several RFA hearings can have the same date and time on their hearing notices. Get to court on time and wait for the court officer to call your name.

Remote hearings due to COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, your hearing will probably be done remotely. That means you will do it online or over the phone. See our tip sheet about remote hearings for help. And ask the court clerk several days in advance if you have any questions such as how to participate, offer evidence and invite witnesses.

Expect to wait awhile online or on the phone for your hearing. Even if the hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., it could happen much later in the morning. Plan to take the morning off from work in this case.

Does the defendant have a lawyer?

When you get to court, you may find out that the defendant has a lawyer. If they do, you may ask the court to “continue” (reschedule) the hearing so you have the chance to get a lawyer. Then contact us at Legal Services Vermont and Vermont Legal Aid.

At the hearing, speak when the judge says it is your turn. Do not interrupt the defendant or the judge.

Updated: Aug 23, 2021