Divorce – State FAQ – Vermont
Residency requirements, venue and procedures
Q: How long must I have lived in Vermont prior to filing for divorce in an Vermont court?
A: A complaint for divorce or annulment of marriage may be brought if either party to the marriage has resided within the state for a period of six months or more, but a divorce shall not be decreed for any cause, unless the plaintiff or the defendant has resided in the state one year next preceding the date of final hearing.
Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?
A: The party filing the action is called the Plaintiff, while the other party to the divorce is referred to as the Defendant.
Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?
A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. In Vermont, proper venue for the divorce action is the Family Court. Complaints for divorce shall be brought in the county in which the parties or one of them resides.
Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce? The order granting the divorce?
A: The title of the document initiating the divorce proceeding is a Complaint for Divorce, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Final Divorce Order.
Q: Are there any waiting periods associated with a divorce action?
A: Except under extraordinary circumstances, no divorce action shall be heard on its merits until after the expiration of six months from the date of service, if the custody of a child or children of either party is involved. A decree of divorce shall become absolute at the expiration of three months (the “nisi period”) from the entry thereof but, in its discretion, the court may fix an earlier date upon which the decree shall become absolute. If one of the parties dies prior to the expiration of the “nisi period,” the decree shall be deemed absolute immediately prior to death.
Grounds for Divorce
Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?
A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in Vermont. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.
Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in Vermont?
A: To obtain a no-fault divorcc in the State of Vermont, the spouses must have lived apart from each other for six consecutive months, and the court must conclude that the resumption of marital relations is not reasonably probable. The court will conclude that resumption is not probable unless one of the spouses objects.
Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?
A: Vermont is a so-called “equitable distribution” state. This means that the division of property and debts between the divorcing parties should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. In making a property settlement the court may consider all relevant factors, including but not limited to:
1. The length of the marriage;
2. The age and health of the parties;
3. The occupation, source and amount of income of each of the parties;
4. Vocational skills and employability;
5. The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other;
6. The value of all property interests, liabilities, and needs of each party;
7. Whether the property settlement is in lieu of or in addition to maintenance;
8. The opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income;
9. The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live there for reasonable periods to the spouse having custody of the children;
10. The party through whom the property was acquired; and
11. The contribution of each spouse in the acquisition, preservation, and depreciation or appreciation in value of the respective estates, including the nonmonetary contribution of a spouse as a homemaker;
12. The respective merits of the parties.
Q: Is the “separate property” of one spouse subject to being divided up?
A: The question here is whether property “belonging to” one of the parties should be included in the marital estate for purposes of an equitable division. Generally, separate property acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property nor its income has been used for the common benefit of the parties during their marriage.
Q: What if the parties occasionally use an item of separate property (for example, silver table utensils inherited by the wife) for the benefit of both parties?
A: The property may be subject to division. Where the parties regularly use property acquired by one party before marriage for the common benefit of the parties, it is more likely to be available for consideration in dividing property. The frequency of use may be considered by the court in making the decision.
Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?
A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.
Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?
A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final. Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.
Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?
A: The court may order either spouse to make maintenance payments, either rehabilitative or permanent in nature, to the other spouse if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:
1. Lacks sufficient income, property, or both, to provide for his or her reasonable needs, and
2. Is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment at the standard of living established during the marriage or is the custodian of a child of the parties.
The maintenance order shall be in such amounts and for such periods of time as the court deems just, after considering all relevant factors including, but not limited to:
1. The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, the property apportioned to the party, the party’s ability to meet his or her needs independently, and the extent to which a provision for support of a child living with the party contains a sum for that party as custodian;
2. The time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment;
3. The standard of living established during the marriage;
4. The duration of the marriage;
5. The age and the physical and emotional condition of each spouse;
6. The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her reasonable needs while meeting those of the spouse seeking maintenance; and
7. Inflation with relation to the cost of living.
Parental rights and responsibilities (Child custody and visitation)
Q: What is child custody and visitation?
A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non-custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).
Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?
A: The court may order parental rights and responsibilities to be divided or shared between the parents on such terms and conditions as serve the best interests of the child. When the parents cannot agree to divide or share parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall award parental rights and responsibilities primarily or solely to one parent. In making an order awarding parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall be guided by the best interests of the child, and shall consider at least the following factors:
1. The relationship of the child with each parent and the ability and disposition of each parent to provide the child with love, affection and guidance;
2. The ability and disposition of each parent to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, medical care, other material needs and a safe environment;
3. The ability and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s present and future developmental needs;
4. The quality of the child’s adjustment to the child’s present housing, school and community and the potential effect of any change;
5. The ability and disposition of each parent to foster a positive relationship and frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, including physical contact, except where contact will result in harm to the child or to a parent;
6. The quality of the child’s relationship with the primary care provider, if appropriate given the child’s age and development;
7. The relationship of the child with any other person who may significantly affect the child;
8. The ability and disposition of the parents to communicate, cooperate with each other, and make joint decisions concerning the children where parental rights and responsibilities are to be shared or divided.
9. In addition, the court shall consider evidence of abuse, and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationship between the child and the abusing parent.
The court shall not apply a preference for one parent over the other because of the sex of the child, the sex of a parent or the financial resources of a parent.
Q: Do grandparents in the state of Vermont have any visitation rights with their grandchildren?
A: Yes. The court shall grant a grandparent reasonable visitation or access to the grandchild upon determining that to do so would be in the best interests of the child.
Q: What is “child support”?
A: Child support is money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).
Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?
A: Guidelines for child support have been established which reflects the percent of combined available income which parents living in the same household in Vermont ordinarily spend on their children. The amounts of child support determined under the guideline shall be presumed to be the total support obligation of parents.