Vermont Divorce Guide

Vermont Divorce Guide

If you’re going through a divorce in Vermont, you need to understand the laws, processes and your responsibilities to ensure your rights are protected and the process goes as smoothly as possible.

All divorces are unique, but there are several things within the divorce framework that are the same. Here are several essential things you should know.

What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Vermont?

Vermont allows both no-fault and fault-based divorces. In a no-fault divorce, a couple must only be separated by mutual agreement from each other for six months before filing for divorce. That amount of time extends to one year if both parties are not in agreement.

In addition, the Vermont legislature has established the following grounds for divorce or separation:

  • Separation, where the parties have lived apart for six consecutive months, and the Court finds that the resumption of marital relations is not reasonably probable.
  • Adultery.
  • Confinement of either party in prison for three years or more. The party must actually be confined at the time the divorce action is brought.
  • Intolerable severity — when one party persists in misconduct to an extent that causes or threatens to cause injury to life, limb or health of the other party. Injury can be indirectly caused by grief, worry or mental distress caused by the party’s misconduct.
  • Willful desertion — when either party has been absent for seven years and not heard from during that time.
  • Persistent refusal or neglect, without cause, of spouse when a party has the monetary and physical means to provide suitable maintenance to the other.
  • Incurable insanity.

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

Legal Separation vs a Divorce

The same grounds that apply for divorce, also apply for a legal separation in Vermont. Legal separation requires a court action and a couple will need to resolve child custody and support, spousal maintenance and a division of assets as part of that action.

The main difference is that a couple remains married in a legal separation.

Couples sometimes choose legal separation instead of divorce to take a “time out” in their marriage and see if they can work things out.

If spouses can’t reconcile during their time apart, then they can divorce. Either spouse can also file for divorce at any time as well.

Some couples may choose legal separation for religious reasons, because divorce may be a conflict depending on their spiritual beliefs. At other times, legal separation may be a way to let a spouse keep health insurance or it can provide tax benefits that only married couples can enjoy.

Read More: Legal Separation vs. Divorce: Pros and Cons

Annulment vs. Divorce

In Vermont, an order granting annulment of your marriage means you were never legally married to your spouse.

Only certain legal reasons are grounds for annulment in the state. They include:

  • Underage: One spouse was under age 16 at the time of marriage.
  • Unsound mind: One spouse was unable to consent because of insanity or other mental health disability.
  • Physical incapacity: One spouse is physically incapable of consummating the marriage.
  • Force: One spouse was coerced or threatened into getting married.
  • Fraud: One spouse lied or hid information to convince the other spouse to marry.
  • Incest: The spouses are related.
  • Bigamy: One spouse has a living spouse from another marriage.

Some of these legal grounds have specific rules:

  • Underage: If a person married when under the age of 16, but freely continued to live with the other spouse after turning 18, the marriage won’t be annulled.
  • Unsound mind: If a spouse was insane at the time of the marriage, but has regained sanity and the spouses continued to live together thereafter, the marriage won’t be annulled.
  • Physical incapacity: For a marriage to be annulled because one spouse is physically incapable, the other spouse has to file for annulment within two years of the date they were married.

To file for an annulment, you will need to file:

If a judge approves, you will have a hearing similar to a divorce case.

Parental rights and responsibilities, child support, and property division can be addressed by the court in an annulment case.

You and your partner may be required to participate in a self-represented litigant education program, a parenting course, or both. You may also be required to attend mediation.

What are your Options for Getting a Divorce in Vermont?

What are your Options for Getting a Divorce

There are several possible courses of action you can take to get a divorce in Vermont. They include:

Do-It-Yourself divorce. This is known as an uncontested divorce. If you and your spouse can agree on all the issues in advance, you can file paperwork with the court stating this fact, and you will usually be granted a divorce in a short amount of time, the least amount of emotional stress, and the lowest possible costs. You may be able to go through the entire process without appearing in front of a judge or appearing only briefly to answer a few questions.

Online divorce. This is similar to a DIY divorce, except that you rely a lot more on pre-printed forms and online services or attorneys to help you complete the required paperwork. The automated approach can save a lot of money, but you need to be careful about making costly mistakes if you go this route.

I recommend using 3 Step Divorce if this course of action interests you. They have an over 95% success rate and are reasonably priced, and can even help you draft a settlement agreement online.

Divorce mediation. You meet with a neutral third party who helps you work through the areas of disagreement you have, such as property division, child custody and visitation, and related issues. When you strike an agreement, you draw up a proposal and submit it to the court for approval. This is a quicker, cheaper, and less contentious route for many couples than going through a full-blown trial.

Read More: A Beginner’s Guide to Divorce Mediation

Collaborative divorce. This is an option for couples who still have a fair amount of cooperation and trust between them. Any disagreements are resolved respectfully and amicably using attorneys who are specially trained in collaborative law. That is less costly than other forms of divorce and leaves decisions with the couple, and not a judge. If collaboration fails, you can move forward with other types of divorce, but you will need to retain a different attorney if you do.

Litigation. Litigation is a traditional approach to divorce. You and your attorneys engage with your spouse and their attorneys in an attempt to negotiate a settlement before going to trial. About 95% of all litigated divorces end this way. If you can reach an agreement through a negotiated settlement or arbitration instead of a trial, then you can save some time and aggravation.

Trial. When two people have tried other ways of settling their marital affairs, and there is a high degree of conflicts and outstanding issues, a trial often results. These can be long, drawn-out, and expensive with a judge who will make rulings based on applicable state law. You may also not like the rulings that are decided by a judge, and you’ll have little recourse in most cases to modify the results.

What is the Process of Getting a Divorce in Vermont?

Process of Getting a Divorce

To file for divorce in Vermont, you or your spouse must have been a resident of Vermont for six months. One spouse must have lived continuously in Vermont for at least a year before the final divorce hearing can be held.

The main form you file to start a divorce case is called a complaint but you will need to file other forms as well. Which ones will depend on the circumstances of your case.

Once your forms are complete, hand carry or mail them to the family division of the Superior Court in the county where you or your spouse lives.

After you file, you’ll need to legally notify your spouse of your intention to divorce them by serving them with the summons and complaint.

The process may be different if you and your spouse have minor children. For more information about serving papers, you can follow Vermont’s online instructions.

If you or the court arranges to serve your spouse by mail or by sheriff, you may want to consider letting your spouse know in advance.

As a defendant, you have 21 days to file an answer with the court. The 21 days start on the date the sheriff serves you, the date you sign an acceptance or acknowledgment, or the date you sign for the papers at the post office. You can make a written request to the court for more time, if needed.

You need to file a proof of service document with the court once this step has been completed.

As a defendant, you have 21 days to file an answer. The 21 days start on the date the sheriff serves you, the date you sign an acceptance or acknowledgment, or the date you sign for the papers at the post office

Your answer can include a counterclaim if you want. This is basically your own divorce complaint. It is often a good thing to file this to protect your rights.

If you don’t file an answer, your spouse can request a default judgment against you without your input or participation.

After the complaint is filed and the papers are served, you and your spouse will start getting notices and orders from the court, including actions such as an Interim Domestic Order, Order Regarding Parenting Course and others.

This will be followed by a case management conference to work out issues related to parenting, child support, health insurance and an initial discussion about assets and debts.

It may be possible to enter into mediation to resolve your differences. Mediators do not decide who is right or wrong. Instead, they help you find practical solutions to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

The Vermont Superior Court Family Mediation Program provides subsidized mediation services to some people. You can find more information about family court mediation, including a list of family court mediators, here.

When you can’t reach an agreement, you will need to go to trial and present evidence and testimony in front of a judge. The judge will decide the issues and render a settlement but your divorce will not be final for another three months.

If you want to appeal a final divorce judgment, you must file your Notice of Appeal within 30 days of the judgment.

Can I File for Divorce Without an Attorney?

File for Divorce Without an Attorney

Yes. You do not have to hire an attorney to represent you in Vermont. This works best when you and your spouse can agree on all issues, leading to an uncontested divorce. however, if you do have unresolved issues, many times it is advisable to retain an attorney to protect your interests.

Can I File for Divorce Online?

Divorce Online

You can start the process online by working with a firm that will help you complete initial paperwork, with an attorney who can assist you via email, or by filling out forms supplied by the state. But once the paperwork is complete, you must file in person or by mailing your paperwork at the courthouse serving your local jurisdiction.

Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.

From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:

  • Affordable
    • $299 flat-fee with no hidden charges
  • Flexible
    • Monthly payment options as low as $84/mo
  • Fast
    • Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
  • Informative
    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
  • Guaranteed
    • Assurance of 100% court-approval (or your money back!)

3 Step Divorce also boasts the highest customer rating in the industry (4.6 stars based on 1,575 reviews).

3 Step Divorce Rating

You can learn more by reading our 3StepDivorce review.

Better yet, you can Start Your 3 Step Divorce NOW (as low as $84/month).

Get Started >> 3 Step Divorce

Can I Mail Divorce Papers?

After you file with the court in Vermont, one of the ways to complete proof of service is by First Class Mail with Acknowledgement or by Certified Mail.

You need to include an acknowledgment for the other party to sign, date, and return to the court in a prepaid envelope. This is called a Notice of Action and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons.

The other party needs to sign and return the form to the court within 21 days of the date the papers were delivered. If they do not, you will have to serve the summons and complaint in another way.

If the other party does not sign and return the acknowledgment form, the court may later require them to pay you for the costs of sending them another way.

Refusing or Contesting a Divorce

If your spouse wants a divorce, you can’t refuse that action. If you disagree with any issues your spouse puts forth (i.e. alimony, child support, distribution of assets), you can contest the divorce. This may lead to a negotiated settlement or a trial to ensure you are treated fairly.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Vermont?

How Long Does a Divorce Take

It depends on several factors. Divorces take longer if you have minor children. The court won’t schedule a hearing until at least six months after your divorce starts.

For a no-fault divorce in Vermont, you and your spouse must live separate and apart for at least six consecutive months and that you are not likely to get back together.

You can file for divorce before you separate, during, or after you separate. But you can’t have a final divorce hearing until you’ve been separated for six months. It’s possible to live separate and apart but still live in the same house as long as you sleep in separate rooms and keep your households separate.

After your final divorce hearing, there is also a three-month period before your divorce is final.

In a contested divorce, the process can take much longer. You’ll need to negotiate unresolved issues to reach an agreement, sometimes through mediation or a collaborative divorce process.

Depending on the complexity of your issues and the degree of cooperation with your spouse, this could take several months to resolve.

When you can’t reach agreement, you may have to appear in front of a judge and make your case as part of a trial. This is the costliest form of divorce and can take a year or more to resolve.

Is There a Waiting Period?

If you meet residency requirements and you have minor children, the court usually won’t schedule a final divorce hearing until six months after the divorce starts.

In some cases, a judge may allow a final divorce sooner than that if you have had a stable and effective parenting agreement for at least six months.

The six-month separation period for a no-fault divorce and the six-month parenting period for couples with kids can run at the same time.

There is also a three-month waiting period after the final hearing before the divorce is final. This is called a nisi period. The judge may shorten or waive the nisi period if you both agree to do that.

At the end of this period, your divorce will automatically become final. You won’t get any more orders or communications from the court.

If you have minor children, your divorce will usually take at least six months. If you don’t have minor children, it’s possible to get through the process more quickly if you separated before either party filed for divorce.

Expediting Your Divorce

If you just want to get your divorce over with as soon as possible in Vermont, the best way to do this is to be as cooperative as possible with your spouse. Try to negotiate all issues in advance before filing so that you will not get tied down in court proceedings. This route costs less, goes quick, and produces less anxiety for everyone involved.

If you do have disagreements, you can expedite things by being attentive to requests for information during negotiations. Also be sure to appear on time and fully prepared at all court dates. Make sure you know what is most important to you in the divorce and what parts you are willing to give up so that negotiations also move quicker.

Read More: 50 Ways to Prepare for Divorce

What is the Cost of a Divorce in Vermont?

Cost of a Divorce

When you file for divorce in Vermont, you must also pay a filing fee. That fee is $90 with a stipulation and when one or both spouses are resident. The fee is $180 with a stipulation if neither party is resident

For a complete list of all Vermont court Family Division fees, go here.

In some cases, you may be able to obtain a fee waiver.

If you receive public assistance, are on a fixed income, or have a low-paying job, you can ask the court to waive the filing fee by filing an Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs.

If you qualify and the court approves your application, you won’t have to pay the fee. For more information about waiving the filing fee, go here.

Contested vs Uncontested Divorce

A contested divorce means that you and your spouse do not agree on all the issues related to ending your marriage. You will have to negotiate your differences or appear in front of a judge as part of a trial to resolve your differences.

An uncontested divorce means you are able to work out all issues in advance, and all that’s required is a review and approval by the court to finalize your divorce.

No-fault vs Fault-based Divorce

What is a No-fault Divorce 1

Vermont permits no-fault divorces which means that you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences and there is no chance to get back together. You only need to meet separation requirements for a divorce to move forward.

Fault-based reasons can include adultery, intolerable severity, willful desertion, and other similar grounds.

Decree of Divorce vs. Proof of Divorce

Divorce Decree

A final decree is the court’s final order granting you a divorce. It contains detailed information about the court’s rulings on all the details of your case

When the decree is finalized, you are single and free to marry again, if you choose to do so.

A proof of divorce is simply a certificate that only provides minimal information stating that two people have divorced, when and where the divorce took place. A proof of divorce certificate is often required when a person wants to get remarried.

Can I Reverse a Divorce in Vermont?

If you are the petitioner in a divorce in Vermont, and you want to stop a divorce in progress for any reason, you can do so by filing a request to dismiss the divorce complaint (the earlier, the better). Defendants can’t file a request to dismiss.

Once a final divorce settlement has been signed by the courts, the divorce is final and no reversal is possible.

Bifurcated Divorce

In some cases, Vermont courts will allow a couple to divide a divorce into two separate legal actions.

This is known as bifurcation and may be employed when most issues can be resolved, but a few issues could take a long time to adjudicate.

A limited trial may be held at a later date that will focus only on unresolved issues. Bifurcation lets a couple get a divorce and to approve a partial settlement until the other issues are resolved.

Judges are very reluctant to grant bifurcated divorces because of judicial inefficiencies and because there is less incentive to finalize a divorce.

It’s best to consult with an attorney if you’re considering this option.

How Does Adultery Affect Divorce in Vermont?

Adultery is one of the fault-based reasons a person can seek divorce in Vermont. It may impact child custody or a division of assets in some cases.

Changing Your Name

You will be presented either an option to restore your former name or request a court order for changing names when preparing your divorce forms.

The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all US agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.

Just because you have a court order does not mean your name change has taken effect. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.

Start by updating your name with the Social Security Administration. Once complete you can go onto change names everywhere else.

It’s time-consuming to contact each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.

Read: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Changing my Last Name

There are a ton of online divorce resources that make big claims about what they can accomplish for you. We’ve personally tested a bunch of them. Most fall short of their goals. A few stand out above the rest.

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  • Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
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