The divorce rate in Vermont is lower than in many other states, according to 2021 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is tied for the 11th lowest divorce rate in the country, with Michigan and Iowa at 2.3 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants. This is almost double Nevada’s 4.2 divorce rate, which is the highest nationwide. Despite the lower divorce rate, Vermont residents should know what to do if they are served with divorce papers or if they want to file for divorce themselves.
As such, this article aims to inform people about the divorce process in Vermont and help them decide if a divorce is a beneficial move for them. It will also explain the differences between divorce and other ways of changing marital relations, such as annulment and legal separation.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Vermont
Married couples in Vermont can end their union through a divorce, an annulment, or a legal separation. Depending on the circumstances and their preferences, one spouse may prefer to pursue one method over the other.
A divorce in Vermont ends a marriage through the court. It could be either a stipulated or contested divorce case, depending on whether each spouse is able to reach an agreement on their own or through the court. A stipulated divorce is when both parties cooperate and agree on matters relating to the case. If both parties do not agree on important issues, such as property division, child support, spousal maintenance, and child custody, they will present their case in court hearings for the judge to make the final verdict.
People who choose to legally separate in Vermont go through a similar process to those who file for divorce. Through legal separation, the petitioner and their spouse will be able to separate their property and finances based on the judge’s decision. The main difference between a divorce and legal separation is that a divorce is permanent, while legal separation can be temporary. In addition, individuals who are legally separated cannot marry other people because they are still considered married.
Annulment in Vermont means that the marriage is invalid. Fraud, bigamy, physical incapacity, and mental incapability are some of the grounds for annulment. After the court grants an annulment, each spouse can say that they were never legally married to the other person. An annulment case will still settle the same issues as a divorce case, such as child custody and spousal maintenance.
Is Vermont a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Vermont allows divorce cases based on fault or no-fault grounds. Filing for a fault-based divorce in Vermont is possible if one spouse has committed adultery, refuses to support or isn’t capable of supporting the other spouse, has willfully deserted or abandoned the other for at least seven years, or is serving a prison sentence for at least three years.
No-fault divorces, on the other hand, require the following conditions:
- The parties must have lived apart continuously for at least six months by the time the divorce is granted
- It’s unlikely that the parties will resume marital relations.
A judge will have to conduct a hearing if one party denies that the requirements for a no-fault divorce are not met.
How to File for Divorce in Vermont
A divorce case in Vermont can be mentally and emotionally taxing for both spouses. They may feel overwhelmed while navigating the state's legal system. With that in mind, both individuals should consider talking to an attorney, especially if their case involves complicated property issues, disagreements about child custody, pension or retirement accounts, and a history of domestic abuse. For domestic violence cases, people should visit the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence website or call 1-800-228-7395 for assistance.
This part of the article explains the process of filing for divorce in Vermont.
1. Meet the Residency Requirements
Before filing for divorce in Vermont, the petitioner must ensure they meet the residency requirements and have determined on what grounds the divorce case will focus.
The state’s residency requirement is at least six months, which means either the petitioner or their spouse must have lived in Vermont continuously for six months or more before filing the case. Vermont family courts can still accept a divorce case if neither party lives in the state, depending on the circumstances, such as if the couple got married in Vermont or they live in a state where they can’t get a divorce.
A petition for divorce in Vermont must also include a legal reason why the petitioner wants the marriage to end. Unlike in other states, a no-fault divorce case in Vermont will not be accepted if the individual is simply claiming that their marriage has broken down. The petitioner must examine whether the circumstances of the marriage meet the requirements for a no-fault or a fault-based divorce case and whether the other party will agree or disagree on divorce-related issues.
The complainant should analyze their situation and prepare well because a fault-based divorce with neither spouse agreeing on divorce-related matters will require more time and money than a no-fault divorce with both spouses reaching a marital settlement agreement.
2. File the Divorce Papers
Once the individual meets the requirements and is determined to file for divorce, they must prepare the necessary documents. The person filing for divorce will be considered the plaintiff, while the other spouse will be the defendant in the case. The Vermont Judiciary website has instructions and downloadable forms that the plaintiff will need for their case. They could also obtain paper versions of the documents from the court.
The individual should prepare to provide information about themselves, their spouse, their marriage, and their children. They may also be asked if they would like to restore their former name, the date and location where they were married, and when they separated from their spouse if it is a no-fault divorce.
The plaintiff must complete and submit the following forms if they still have minor children with their spouse:
If the individual does not have minor children with the other party, they need to file:
The spouse or the court may still require the plaintiff to submit the financial affidavit forms in divorce cases with no minor children. After completing the documents, the individual must file them with their local court clerk’s office in person or by mail.
3. Serve the Divorce Papers
After filing the divorce documents, the plaintiff must serve the papers on their spouse. If the divorce is stipulated, the couple does not need to follow the formal service process; they just need to ensure they each have copies of all the divorce papers.
In divorce cases without minor children, the plaintiff is responsible for serving the papers. For divorce cases that involve minor children, the court will arrange the formal serving of documents to the other party.
The plaintiff can serve the divorce papers by arranging to have a constable or sheriff hand-deliver them to the spouse, send the documents by certified mail with the return receipt requested, or mail the divorce papers to the other party using first-class mail with a Notice of Action and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons.
Plaintiffs can also serve the divorce papers themselves if they believe the other party is willing to cooperate. The spouse is required to sign and return an Acceptance of Service form, which the plaintiff will file with the court.
The individual must serve the documents within 60 days of filing for divorce because the judge may dismiss their case if they miss that deadline.
4. Wait for Response to the Complaint
If the case is considered a stipulated divorce, the court won’t need to wait for the response because the other party’s answer is already in the initial divorce papers submitted.
If it isn’t a stipulated divorce, the spouse typically has 21 days to respond to the complaint after they are served the divorce documents. The judge may sign a divorce judgment that grants the plaintiff's request if the defendant cannot file an answer on time.
5. Attend Meetings and Courses
The court can order the couple to attend case manager conferences to discuss issues such as child custody, child support, visitation, and property division. If the couple has minor children, they may be ordered to take a course on Coping with Separation and Divorce, which is administered through the University of Vermont. The case may also go to mediation upon the request of the plaintiff, the defendant, or the judge.
6. Wait for the Court to Finalize the Divorce
People who file for divorce must be aware that under Vermont law, some situations could delay their case even if they have completed the other steps. Those who recently moved to Vermont will still have to wait a year before their divorce can be granted. The divorce also won’t be absolute until 90 days after the judge signs the decree.
An uncontested final hearing will have the judge meet with both parties to ensure they have agreed on all issues. A contested final hearing will have the judge decide on matters the parties cannot agree on, including property division and child custody.
How Property Is Divided in a Vermont Divorce
A divorce in Vermont will include the division of all marital property. The property that will be divided includes the couple’s home, vehicles, other real estate properties, bank accounts, and investment accounts. The divorce will divide everything the couple has, regardless of whose name it is in. This means that, unlike some other states, property solely listed under one spouse’s name or inherited during the marriage will be divided equitably.
Rather than having the judge divide the property, both parties should decide how to do it themselves or consider mediation if they can’t agree.
If the court decides to divide the property, it will do so in a way it believes is fair, even if it’s not necessarily equal. The factors the court will consider when dividing property include:
The health and age of each individual.
The length of the marriage.
The opportunity for each party to receive income or inheritance in the future.
The current job and source of income of each person.
The contribution of each spouse to the preservation, acquisition, appreciation, or depreciation of value of the respective estates.
The respective merits of the parties.
Whether the property settlement is to be awarded in addition to or instead of spousal maintenance.
Vermont Divorce FAQs
People considering divorce in Vermont may have several questions before they proceed. This is because a divorce will most likely change how they live and take a considerable amount of time out of their day. This article section will answer frequently asked questions about divorce in Vermont.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Vermont
Vermont residents who have chosen to file for divorce should prepare themselves by estimating the potential costs and whether the complaint will be disputed. There are also several legal resources that individuals can check to have a better understanding of the divorce process.
This online resource provides a comprehensive overview of the divorce process in Vermont. It also has information on what individuals should do if their divorce case involves a spouse serving in the military or if a divorce order needs to be modified or enforced. The website provides copies of the necessary divorce papers and instructions on completing them.
Vermont’s Legal Help Website
VTLawHelp.org offers free legal services to low-income people dealing with civil cases. It provides legal advice over the phone, offers legal research, and sends relevant information to the client’s mail or email. It can also have an internal or volunteer lawyer represent the individual in court. Depending on the case, the group may refer the client to a private lawyer or other agencies.
Vermont residents interested in the group’s legal services can visit the website’s Legal Help Request page to inquire about their eligibility. They can also contact them at 1-800-889-2047.
Legal Services Vermont
Legal Services Vermont is a nonprofit law firm catering to low-income Vermonters dealing with civil cases. It handles divorce and child custody matters, offering advice, referrals, and representation to its clients. The firm has been helping people in the area since 1995. It receives grants from individual donors and the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C.
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