Vermont divorce law refers to civil marriage, which means a marriage that is legally recognized by the state. In Vermont, as elsewhere, divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may arise. If there are minor children, they will need to resolve issues of child custody and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for divorce in Vermont, one of the parties must be a resident of Vermont for at least 6 months before filing, and for at least 1 year before the Decree of Divorce is entered. You may file in the Superior Court in the county where either party resides.
The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce where you and your spouse reach an agreement about all issues. You begin by filing a Complaint for Divorce, along with various supporting documents. One of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding alimony and any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Vermont, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and several traditional fault-based grounds. To get a no-fault divorce in Vermont, you need to state in the Complaint for Divorce that “the parties have been living separate and apart for 6 consecutive months and the resumption of marital relations is not reasonably probable.”
The fault-based grounds for divorce are: adultery, imprisonment for 3 years or more, “intolerable severity,” wilful desertion or when the other party “has been absent for seven years and not heard of during that time,” persistent refusal or failure to provide the spouse with suitable maintenance while able to do so, and incurable insanity. However, in most cases, there is no reason to use any of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.
A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. Vermont divorce law provides that all property is marital property, regardless of how or when it was acquired or how it is titled. Absent an agreement of the parties, the judge will divide the property after considering the following factors:
- the length of the civil marriage,
- each party’s age and health,
- each party’s occupation, and source and amount of income,
- each party’s vocational skills and employability,
- any contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other party,
- the value of all property interests, liabilities, and needs of each party,
- whether the property settlement is in lieu of, or in addition to, maintenance (alimony),
- each party’s opportunity for future acquisition of capital assets and income, including consideration of “the parties’ lifestyle and decisions made during the marriage…as related to their expectations of gifts or an inheritance,” but not speculating as to the value of any inheritance or including any non-vested inheritance,
- the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live there for reasonable periods, to the party having custody of the children,
- the party through whom the property was acquired,
- each party’s contribution (including as homemaker) to the acquisition, preservation, and depreciation or appreciation in value of the respective estates, and
- the respective merits of the parties.
Alimony in Vermont
Alimony is referred to as maintenance in Vermont. Maintenance may be awarded if the party seeking maintenance:
- lacks sufficient income, property, or both, including property apportioned in the divorce, to provide for his or her reasonable needs, and
- is unable to be self-supporting through appropriate employment at the standard of living established during the civil marriage, or is the custodian of a child of the parties.
Absent an agreement by the parties, the judge will determine the amount and duration of maintenance, after considering the following factors:
- the financial resources of, and property apportioned to, the party seeking maintenance, that party’s ability to meet his or her needs independently, and the extent to which a child support order contains a sum for that party as custodian,
- the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment,
- the standard of living established during the civil marriage,
- the duration of the civil marriage,
- each party’s age, and physical and emotional condition,
- the ability of the party from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her own reasonable needs while paying maintenance, and
- inflation with relation to the cost of living.
Child Custody in Vermont
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. In Vermont, custody is referred to as parental rights and responsibilities. It still comes down to how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made.
If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on custody, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is determined not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge is required to “award parental rights and responsibilities primarily or solely to one parent.” In doing so, the judge must consider all relevant factors, including:
- the relationship of the child with each party, and each party’s ability and disposition to provide the child with love, affection, and guidance,
- each party’s ability and disposition to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, medical care, other material needs, and a safe environment,
- each party’s ability and disposition to meet the child’s present and future developmental needs,
- the quality of the child’s adjustment to the present housing, school, and community, and the potential effect of any change,
- each party’s ability and disposition to foster a positive relationship and frequent and continuing contact with the other party,
- the quality of the child’s relationship with the primary care provider, if appropriate given the child's age and development,
- the relationship of the child with any person who may significantly affect the child,
- the parties’ ability to communicate, cooperate, and make joint decisions concerning the child, where parental rights and responsibilities are shared or divided, and
- any evidence of abuse, and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationship between the child and the abusing party.
Child Support in Vermont
Child support is determined by reference to the Vermont Child Support Guidelines. These guidelines, as well as child support tables and worksheets may be found through the Department for Children and Families website.
The wife’s maiden or former name may be restored, and the surname of children may also be changed.
Filing a divorce can be a complex process, but if you and your spouse can agree on the terms of the divorce you may be able to save time. Following these steps will help you get started with your divorce.
If you are considering an online divorce, LegalZoom can help you get the divorce documents you need. We help you fill out the paperwork and check it for completeness and accuracy, and provide step-by-step instructions for filing and completing your divorce.