Requirement for divorce in Vermont
To file for divorce in Vermont, your spouse and you need to have lived in the state for a minimum of 6 months at least.
The Vermont family court will not grant you the final divorce decree unless either your spouse or you have lived in Vermont for at least 1 year. This essentially means that after 6 months of living in Vermont, you can file for divorce; however, you will have to wait for 1 year at least before the divorce is finalized.
For the final divorce hearing to be scheduled, your spouse and you should be leading separate lives (even if both of you live in the same house) for a minimum of 6 months at least.
There is an exception to the residency requirements to file for divorce in Vermont. If neither your spouse nor you reside in the state, you can get a divorce only if you meet all the below conditions:
Your spouse and you were married or entered into a civil union in the state.
Both your spouse or you cannot get a divorce in the state you live currently because the states where both of you reside do not recognize your marriage/civil union.
Your spouse and you don’t have minor children.
Your spouse/civil union partner and you have a written agreement regarding your property and debt division.
Grounds for divorce
Vermont is a “mixed grounds” state, which means that you can get a divorce on both “no-fault”, as well as “fault-based” grounds.
You can get a “no-fault” divorce without the requirement of addressing the reasons as to why your marriage ended. In the case of no-fault divorce, you can simply state that your spouse and you have lived separately and apart for a minimum of 6 months and that your marriage cannot be retrieved.
Vermont also allows divorce on the basis of the following “fault” grounds:
Extreme cruelty or intolerable severity
Incarceration for over 3 years
Deserting your spouse for a period of 7 years at least
Refusal by either spouse to provide adequate financial resources/maintenance despite having the ability and means to do so
Step 1: Starting your Vermont divorce
To file for divorce in Vermont, the following forms must be filled out:
Documents Needed for Filing for Divorce
Cover Sheet: Has the details about the case and specifies the manner in which the defendant must be served.
Summons, Complaint for Divorce and Notice for Appearance: If both parties agree about the divorce and all its terms, then you can file combined forms. When both parties agree and you don’t have children, then the plaintiff can file the above forms; however, if there are children, then the above forms can be filed along with an Affidavit of Child Custody. Using the combined forms helps to expedite the divorce.
Complaint for Divorce: This identifies both spouses, marriage history, children and the relief requested.
Notice of Appearance: Enters the appearance of the defendant in the divorce action where he/she does not want to file an Answer but wants to prevent a default judgment against him/her.
Summons: Informs the defendant that he/she must answer the Complaint within 20 days of face a default judgment against him/her.
Affidavit of Income and Assets: Has the information regarding the financial information of both parties.
Final Divorce Stipulation: This documents the separation agreement that has been negotiated by both parties (If your looking to file a legal separation instead of a divorce, you will need to file a different set of forms)
Affidavit of Child Custody: Identifies the children of both spouses filing for divorce, their residential history for 5 years, any pending child custody litigation, etc.
Acceptance of Service: When this is signed by the defendant, it means that he/she has accepted the divorce papers.
Filing Your Forms
Once you have filled out the forms necessary to file for divorce, file the papers with the court by delivering or mailing them along with the filing fee. If your spouse and you agree on all the terms of the divorce, then the filing fee will be much less and if you cannot afford the fee, then you can apply for a fee waiver.
Step 2: Notifying your spouse
When the divorce action is started, the documents must be served on your spouse. There are different ways by which you can serve your spouse:
If your spouse and you are on good terms, then you can deliver the divorce forms by hand. However, you must ensure that your spouse signs the copy of the Acceptance of Service
You can have the papers delivered by the Sheriff for a fee.
The divorce forms can be delivered via certified mail with a return receipt requested. The court will do this for you for a fee.
The papers can be delivered by regular mail along with the Acceptance of Service form. If your spouse will not return the Acceptance of Service form, then you must serve via certified mail.
If you are unable to find your spouse, then you can serve him/her by publication in the newspaper.
The most important thing is that you must submit the proof of service on your spouse to the court. If you receive the Acceptance of Service form, then you must file it with the court immediately after keeping a copy for your records. If your spouse has been served by the sheriff, then the Affidavit of Service and the Summons will be returned to you by the sheriff and this must then be filed with the court.
You can get more information regarding service of the divorce forms here. Once the divorce forms are filed with the court, you must ensure that your spouse is served the forms within 60 days of filing, otherwise, your case may be dismissed by the court and you will have to start the entire process afresh.
Step 3: contested or uncontested?
Contested Divorce (High Costs)
If your spouse and you are not able to agree on all the terms of the divorce, then it is a contested divorce. And, at the hearing, the judge will hear both sides and then issue the final divorce order. You must testify to all the things mentioned in the uncontested divorce except the agreement.
You can present your own witnesses, documents and testimony. You can ask your spouse and his/her witnesses questions and vice versa. The court will then pass the final order.
However, if you are not happy with this, you have around 30 days to appeal the final order. You can file the appeal with the clerk of the Family Division. To go ahead with the appeal, you may require the help of a lawyer and appeals can be quite expensive.
Uncontested Divorce (Low Costs)
If you are able to agree on all the terms pertaining to your divorce with your spouse, then the process will be much easier and cheaper. If you agree on all the issues before going to court, then this is known as a stipulated divorce.
When both spouses agree on all issues related to property and debt division and children, an uncontested hearing is held. At the hearing, you must testify to the following:
When and where you were married.
That your spouse and you have been living apart for over 6 months.
That either your spouse or you have been residing in Vermont for 1 year at least by the time of the final hearing.
That your marriage cannot be saved and you want the court to grant a divorce.
That the agreement between your spouse and you is fair.
If there is a nisi period or waiting period ordered by the court, then your divorce will not be final until the nisi period ends. The nisi period starts from the final divorce order date and can last for up to 90 days. However, there is no need for a nisi period and it can either be shortened or even waived.
And, during the hearing, you may be asked if you want to waive the nisi period after the final divorce order. Your divorce will be finalized on the day that the final order is passed in case you waive the nisi period. If you decide not to waive the nisi period, then your divorce will be final after 90 days.
Step 4: Do it yourself or get a lawyer?
DIY divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)
If you do not want the assistance of a divorce lawyer, then you can go in for a DIY divorce. And, to start the divorce process, you must fill in several forms which are available on the website of the Vermont Judiciary.
If you don’t have a lawyer, then you may have to attend the Pro Se Education program, which is for around 1.5 hours and is free of cost. You may attend this class in another county and there is no requirement for you to attend the class with your spouse.
You must then fill out all the forms carefully. You can get help from the instructions sheet which is provided along with the forms packet. Here is the sample of the instruction sheet for divorce with children and the one for without children.
If you need help filling out the divorce forms or if you have queries regarding how to go about your own divorce, you can visit the local legal clinic. You can get a list of the legal clinics in Vermont from the website of the Vermont Bar Association. You can also check with the court clerk if your county offers the facility wherein a person helps people filing for divorce to fill out their forms.
Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)
If you’re looking for an inexpensive divorce in Vermont and you’re not sure about how to go about the entire process, an online divorce service is a very easy, quick and affordable option. This option is ideal for couples whose divorce is uncontested.
The online service enables you to prepare all the forms necessary for a divorce. The online system fills out your papers using a simple questionnaire about your marriage. You will also receive detailed instructions of how and where to file the papers and when the forms are completed, you can file them in the local county courthouse with the appropriate fee.
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Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)
If you’re unable to reach an agreement on the terms and conditions of the divorce with your spouse, then your case will go to trial. Your spouse and you must present your case, testimony, evidence and witnesses before the judge or your attorney can do it on your behalf.
The judge will hear the case and issue the decisions on all the issues that are disputed.
Step 5: The main issues
Vermont is an “equitable distribution” state and this means that the property and debt division between the divorcing spouses are not necessarily equal but equitable and fair. And, the court considers the following before diving the property:
Duration of the marriage.
Age of both the spouses and their health.
Employability and vocational skills of both spouses.
Occupation, amount and source of income of each spouse.
Contribution of one of the spouses to the training, education or increased earning capacity of the other spouse.
Value of all properties.
Needs and liabilities of each spouse.
If the property settlement is in addition/in place of the maintenance.
Opportunity of each spouse for the future income and purchase of assets.
Desirability of giving the family home to the spouse who is the primary custodian of the children or the right of that spouse to live in the family home for a reasonable period of time.
Contribution of each of the spouses in the purchase, maintenance and appreciation/depreciation of value of the respective properties and also considering the non-monetary contribution of each of the spouses as a homemaker.
Merits of each spouse.
Alimony / Spousal Support
The court may order one spouse to pay rehabilitative or permanent maintenance to the other if it finds the other spouse is:
Lacking adequate income or/and property to provide for his/her reasonable needs.
Not able to support himself/herself via proper employment at the standard of living maintained during their marriage or the spouse is the custodian of their child.
In deciding the amount of spousal support and period of time, the court will consider the following factors:
Length of the marriage.
Standard of living maintained during the marriage.
Age and emotional and physical health of each spouse.
Financial resource of the spouse seeking support, property awarded to the spouse, the spouse’s ability to meet his/her needs independently and the extent to which the support of the child living with the spouse contains the amount for the spouse as a custodian of the child.
Time and expense required to get education or training that can enable the spouse seeking support to find proper employment.
Capacity of the spouse from whom support is being sought to meet his/her needs while meeting the needs of the spouse seeking maintenance.
Inflation with respect to the cost of living.
Child Custody & Support Laws
The court may order both parents to divide and share the parental rights and responsibilities, or a single parent to take up the rights and responsibilities of the child, keeping in mind the best interests of the child and after considering the following factors:
The child and parent’s relationship and the disposition and ability of each parent to provide love, affection and guidance to the child.
Disposition and ability of each parent to ensure that the child gets sufficient food, clothing, a safe environment, medical care, etc.
Disposition and ability of each parent to meet the current and future developmental needs of the child.
Adjustment of the child to the current home, school and community and the effect of any change.
Disposition and ability of each parent to cultivate a positive relationship and continuing and frequent contact with the other parent.
Quality of relationship of the child with the primary care provider.
Relationship of the child with another person who has a significant impact on the child.
Disposition and ability of both parents to cooperate and communicate with one another and take joint decisions regarding the child where the rights and responsibilities are divided or shared.
Any evidence of abuse of the child and its impact on the child.
Any other relevant factors.
Step 6: Finalizing your divorce in Vermont
At the beginning of the case, the judge issues an Interim Domestic Order which informs both spouses about the rules while the final divorce hearing is pending and that everything must remain the same until the final hearing.
This order must be followed by both spouses unless the court grants a request from either spouse to make a change in the Interim Order.
Once the divorce documents are filed with the court, you may receive a court notice to attend a case manager’s conference and the details of the same.
The conference is usually run by the case manager working for the court, who will try to help in moving the case forward by:
Finding out the issues that you cannot agree on with your spouse.
Helping your spouse and you to come to an agreement about the disputed issues such as property division, child custody, etc.
Helping you document all the things that you have agreed about and submitting it to the judge.
If your spouse and you have minor children, then the court may ask you to attend the Helping Children Cope with Separation and Divorce class, which is a 4-hour class that you must attend by paying a fee. Your spouse and you can attend separate classes and you can also attend the class in a different county.
The court will schedule a status conference before the final hearing unless your spouse and you have filed a completed agreement with the court. The status conference is usually to check the status of your divorce case and the information that needs to be exchanged by both spouses, the issues that the court must resolve, etc.
The judge may set the date and time of the final hearing at the status conference. If you have submitted a completed agreement, then the court may schedule an uncontested final hearing instead of a status conference.
In the case that your spouse and you have minor children, then the final hearing will not be scheduled by the court until 6 months after the papers were served to the defendant. If your spouse and you agree on all the issues then there will be an uncontested hearing and if there are disputed issues, then there will be an uncontested hearing (both these have been discussed in detail in the section “Step 3: Uncontested or Contested Divorce”).
Once the hearing is complete, the judge will sign the final divorce decree which ends the marriage.