Here is essential information you need to know if you’re facing a spousal maintenance issue in Vermont.
- Who is Entitled to Alimony in Vermont?
- Types of Alimony in Vermont
- What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?
- Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support in Vermont
- Enforcing Vermont Alimony Awards
- Spousal Support and Taxes
- Vermont Alimony FAQs
Who is Entitled to Alimony in Vermont?
Alimony is officially referred to as spousal maintenance in Vermont. It can be requested and awarded to either spouse as long as that spouse can demonstrate a need by proving:
- They lack sufficient income or property (or both) to provide for reasonable needs
- The spouse is unable to be self-supporting through employment at the standard of living established during the marriage or is the custodial parent of the couple’s child.
The goal for maintenance is that a spouse with more income or more assets should help the former spouse maintain his or her standard of living as much as possible, long enough for the former spouse to become financially independent.
Types of Alimony in Vermont
Vermont judges can order the following types of maintenance:
Temporary Support. The purpose of temporary support is to provide a lower-earning spouse the financial means to continue to make ends meet during the divorce. Temporary maintenance is also known as pendente lite alimony and ends when the judge finalizes the divorce. At that time, the judge may award another type of maintenance or no maintenance at all.
Rehabilitative Maintenance. This is the most common type of spousal maintenance in Vermont. It is short-term alimony, and judges order it when a needy spouse has the potential to be self-supporting but may need time to acquire sufficient education or job training necessary to find employment. Courts usually set an end date or specific event for rehabilitative support to terminate. However, if the spouse can demonstrate a continuing need, it’s possible to petition the court for an extension.
Compensatory Maintenance – This is designed to compensate the former spouse for time out of the workforce while she or he was caring for the children or taking care of the household. Compensatory spousal maintenance usually lasts a lot longer than rehabilitative maintenance.
Permanent support. Permanent alimony is rare and awarded in cases where one spouse can’t work due to age, an ongoing illness, disability, if there is a significant difference between the spouse’s incomes when a spouse experienced a lengthy absence from the job market, or other extenuating circumstances.
Unless the court orders otherwise, permanent support continues indefinitely or until a review reveals the award is no longer necessary.
Spouses can also create a maintenance order on their own. This is sometimes done with the help of a mediator who may also assist spouses with other parts of the divorce as well. Spouses often choose this option because it gives them more control over the process instead of leaving important decisions to a judge. The judge will still need to review the agreement and approve it before it can be implemented.
Read More: Divorce Laws in Vermont
What Factors Are Used to Determine Alimony?
There are no statutory guidelines in Vermont for spousal maintenance, but judges use a set of statutory factors to help guide them in deciding if maintenance is appropriate, in what amount, and for how long.
Judges have broad discretion to decide these issues based on what the court deems determine to be just and fair.
Factors that the court can use include:
- The financial resources of each spouse after the divorce. If one spouse leaves the marriage with more property and money than the other, that’s something that could influence the decision. The judge must also review each party’s income and decide whether the party asking for spousal maintenance has enough income to support their needs independently and if the other spouse has the means to make spousal maintenance payments.
- Consideration of the time and expense it would take for the spouse to obtain vocational training or education to get a better job.
- The standard of living the couple had during the marriage.
- How long the couple was married. The longer the marriage, the more likely the judge is to award one party spousal maintenance, and the longer the maintenance will probably last.
- Each party’s age, physical and emotional condition.
- Whether the paying spouse can meet his or her financial needs while paying spousal maintenance.
- The cost of inflation.
- The impact of Social Security eligibility on each spouse.
- Any other factor that the judge deems as relevant to coming up with a fair length and amount.
While there are no hard and fast rules judges often use a rule of thumb that the award will be about 30% of the difference in your incomes. For example, if you make $40,000 and your spouse makes $100,000, the order will be about $20,000 per year, which equates to about one-third of the $60,000 difference in your income.
Read More: The Ultimate Divorce Checklist
Modifying or Terminating Spousal Support in Vermont
Unless the spousal maintenance award states otherwise, either spouse can request a modification of a support order in the future. Before the judge changes an existing order, the requesting spouse must prove there is a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances since the last order.
For example, if the paying spouse loses a job or has a major reduction in income this might lead to a reduced award. Conversely, if you are a receiving spouse and your income jumps dramatically, you may no longer need a spousal maintenance award.
The spouse seeking maintenance modification must prove why the current award is unfair and should change.
If you experienced a change of circumstances that impacts your ability to pay support, you must file a formal request with the court as soon as possible. While you wait for the judge’s decision, it’s imperative that you continue paying according to the current order.
Modifications of an alimony payment are not automatic. You must file a request for a hearing with the court, otherwise the original order will stay in place.
A maintenance order can end with the terms of the original maintenance order are fulfilled, when either spouse passes away or if the recipient spouse’s remarriage (or cohabitation) significantly improves the spouse’s financial circumstances.
Read More: How to Prepare for a Divorce Hearing
Enforcing Vermont Alimony Awards
You must comply with a spousal maintenance award and make payments in a timely manner. If you don’t, the debt owed is called alimony arrears, and enforcement actions can be taken by the State of Vermont to collect that debt.
You could face small claims court actions or be called in front of a judge who could change you with contempt of court. This could lead to wage garnishment, fines, paying court costs, and in some cases, a jail sentence.
Spousal Support and Taxes
Due to recent changes in Federal laws, the payer cannot deduct support payments under a divorce or separation instrument executed after 2018. These payments are also not included as taxable income for recipients.
The same is true of alimony paid under a divorce or separation instrument executed before 2019 and modified after 2018 if the modification expressly states that the alimony isn’t deductible to the payor spouse or included in the income of the recipient spouse.
Taxpayers who pay spousal maintenance under a divorce agreement executed before 2019 can deduct those payments from taxes when the following criteria are met:
- The recipient must be a spouse or former spouse
- There must be a written divorce or separation instrument
- Alimony must be made with cash payments (such as checks and money orders)
- Maintenance does not continue after the recipient dies
- The parties must live apart, residing in different households
- The parties must file separate tax returns (they cannot file a joint return and claim the alimony deduction)
- The court-ordered payment of alimony cannot state that payments are not deductible
Vermont Alimony FAQs
Is marital fault a factor in Vermont spousal maintenance awards?
Vermont does not consider marital fault when determining alimony payments. This means that divorces considered “at-fault” due to cheating or infidelity, abuse, or other factors do not affect the calculation of alimony payments.
Is child custodial status considered when determining alimony in Vermont?
Yes. A judge may adjust alimony payments if a receiving spouse has custody of the children. Generally, custodial spouses receive higher alimony payments to help offset added household costs and provide added financial resources. A judge may adjust alimony payments if a receiving spouse has custody of the children.
Can a prenuptial agreement waive alimony?
Yes, the court will honor the terms of a valid prenuptial agreement in a divorce. It will supersede a spouse’s request for alimony if the agreement is in place.