Divorce is uncomplicated if there are minimal assets and the union was short-lived. But when property and children are involved, the procedure can become emotional and expensive. Every state has unique laws governing domestic relations. Here are the highlights for Vermont.
Grounds for Divorce
In Vermont, grounds for divorce are not required if the couple has lived separately for six months. Otherwise, one party must prove grounds such as imprisonment, adultery, desertion, or insanity. There is a one-year residency requirement prior to filing.
Alternatives to Divorce
Annulment is a legal declaration that voids the marriage. Vermont allows annulment only for grounds such as bigamy, physical or mental incapacity, or duress. Unlike many states, Vermont permits annulment if children resulted from the marriage.
For those wanting to avoid divorce due to religious ramifications, another option is a permanent legal separation that settles all the same issues that are resolved through divorce but keeps the marriage otherwise intact.
Will You Require Legal Assistance?
In some situations couples easily can complete the required paperwork, but an attorney's assistance is virtually necessary in a divorce with complicated legalities such as retirement plans or jointly owned businesses.
Many couples can negotiate divorce terms on their own, but because impartial mediators can quickly help to create agreements, alternative dispute resolution often is useful for resolving matters efficiently and unemotionally. Mediation is not required in Vermont, but it is encouraged for child-related issues.
Temporary orders that address pressing financial or custody issues are common in divorces. Often parties will agree on requirements and obligations, but if they cannot, a judge will determine issues such as who resides in the marital home and who pays marital debts. Requirements in temporary orders can become permanent if the terms remain satisfactory for everyone. Additionally, a spouse who is being abused, stalked, or threatened can request protective orders.
Property and Debts
Vermont law requires equitable distribution of marital property, which means that factors such as length of marriage and earning capacities are considered in dividing assets and debts fairly, but not necessarily equally. Not all property is a marital asset; gifts and inheritances to one spouse received before and during the union belong to the individual.
Custody and Support
Child custody has two components, physical and legal. Custody arrangements can range from sole legal and physical to joint legal and physical. The preference is that both parents have relationships with the child, which means that only rarely will a parent be denied at least visitation. A judge decides custody issues when parents cannot reach co-parenting agreements.
Child support is established in legal guidelines and based on both parties' incomes and parenting time. Factors including extraordinary visitation costs or unusual education or emotional needs can be taken into account in setting support levels.
Medical support orders also are common. Typically, a parent with access to insurance coverage at a reasonable cost—legally defined as 5 percent of the parent's income—will provide it. The first $200 of uncovered expenses each year is the responsibility of the custodial parent, but after that the amount usually is split.
Though parenting time is a consideration in calculating support obligations, legally they are unrelated issues, and one parent cannot withhold visitation if the other is in arrears.
The marriage officially ends with final orders incorporating child-related matters and alimony, and any name changes for former spouses or children. The orders cannot be modified, but one party can return to court and request changes in support, custody, or visitation if circumstances change.
Seeking Legal Assistance
Vermont divorce law is complicated, and this article provides only a general overview. Consult a local attorney for specific advice.