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How to File For Divorce in Vermont

Although divorce is a personal decision, persons married on a state family law must also go through a litigation process to get freedom from the bonds of matrimony. Either spouse can initiate the process in Vermont, where the divorce rate stands at 6.3 divorces per 1000 women as of 2018. The entire litigation process begins in a superior court and it is administered by officials of the state judiciary. Unless the court waives a statutory waiting period, a typical divorce in Vermont takes one (1) year from filing to issuing a divorce nisi. Thereafter, there is a ninety-day period until the divorce is final. Conversely, a complex divorce can take several months more before it is adjudicated.

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in Vermont?

Yes. Intending divorces must file a divorce complaint on one of seven (7) statutory grounds per 15 V. S. A. § 551. These grounds include:

  • Adultery
  • Length of imprisonment longer than three years within or outside the United States
  • Intolerable severity, i.e., harsh treatment
  • Willful desertion or absence for seven or more years without contact
  • Neglect of financial obligations to spouse despite the means
  • Permanent incapacity due to a mental condition or psychiatric disability
  • Separation for more than six consecutive months (the court will investigate and consider probable resumption of marital relations)

Ceteris paribus, intending divorcees who file on these statutory grounds must provide corroborating evidence/witnesses. The court will scrutinize the validity of the evidence and witness testimony before issuing a final decree.

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

With a basic understanding of the divorce laws in a jurisdiction and information on court procedure for divorce, an individual can file and complete a divorce suit. Choosing a divorce lawyer is a subjective decision. It depends on the circumstances surrounding the divorce. As the relationship between intending divorcees and their spouses is seldom cordial, the plaintiff must consider hiring a lawyer. If one cannot afford to hire a lawyer, however, one must consult an experienced divorce attorney before initiating the process. The advantage of a consultation is that the litigant gets a professional examination of the case and legal advice without the expensive fees that come with a retainer. Still, a general rule of thumb is to hire an attorney if the other party hires one. Note that act on experiential advice from a non-professional is tantamount to negligence. While the litigant does not bear any legal liability for this decision, he/she may end up with an unfavorable ruling. In any circumstance, no two divorces are the same.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in Vermont?

Before an intending divorcee initiates the first step in the suit for divorce, he/she must meet the residence requirement in the state statutes. That is, one or both spouses must have resided in Vermont for at least six months before filing a divorce complaint (15 V. S. A. § 592).. Nevertheless, state laws allow the court to waive this initial requirement under four circumstances per the same statute.

These known, filing for divorce in Vermont goes viz:

  • Filing the complaint and other documents: Every divorce suit in Vermont begins at the office of the clerk of the Superior court. There, the plaintiff must request and complete a divorce complaint. He/she will also have to complete other documents applicable to the divorce, depending on the marriage history. Upon completion, the plaintiff must submit the documents along with the applicable filing fee.
  • Completing the SOP: Short for Service of Process, SOP refers to the process of notifying the defendant with copies of the divorce papers. The defendant must acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers, and he/she will have the opportunity to respond with an answer or counterclaim. The plaintiff accomplishes divorce through the court, the sheriff, or a third-party process server. The server must provide the defendant with proof of service, or the plaintiff must submit a waiver of service from the defendant. If the plaintiff delivers the papers by hand, he/she must ensure that the defendant completes the acceptance of service form. You must complete the SOP within sixty (60) days.
  • Mediation: This applies to contested divorces. Often time, the court will require that the intending divorcees complete a private mediation to resolve issues such as asset and liability division, child custody, child support, and alimony. Regardless of the outcome of mediation, the parties may have to appear before a judge.
  • Appearing in court: The last step—for most divorces—is for the parties to appear before the presiding judge. If the divorce is uncontested, the judge simply reviews the settlement agreement and the documents submitted before issuing a divorce nisi. For contested divorces, where mediation has failed, both parties will present their argument by themselves or through the representing attorney. The judge will consider the arguments, pieces of evidence, and witness testimonies before adjudicating the disputes. At the end of the case, the judge will also issue a divorce nisi.   

There is a minimum waiting period of thirty days between filing and issuing the divorce decree. Meanwhile, parties involved in a contested divorce must schedule a hearing date where the judge will hear arguments and adjudicate the disputed matters. A divorce becomes absolutes after the nisi period of ninety (90) days have elapsed.

How to File for Divorce in Vermont without a Lawyer

The steps for filing a divorce are no different for self-represented litigants. In the process, litigants may request official resources from the clerk of courts or use resources available on the self-help section of the judiciary website. All intending divorcees can find divorce forms on the forms page; there are forms for divorce with children and forms for divorce without children. The judiciary also provides access to programs such as COPE and mediation.

How Does Vermont Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is a family court program where intending divorcees communicate and negotiate the terms of the divorce with the help of a mediator. The mediator follows ethical guidelines and does not offer personal opinions in helping parties resolve their differences. The entire process is strictly confidential unless the parties permit the mediator to share events that occurred in the program with the court. The Vermont judiciary bears part of the cost of mediation for eligible individuals based on a sliding fee scale.

How Long after Mediation is Divorce Final in Vermont?

It depends. Mediation may be over in a few sessions if the disputes are minor or both parties arrive at an agreement quickly. Where there are complex disputes to resolve, mediation may take several sessions. The program ends when both parties decide to seek relief from the court instead of arriving at a mutual bargain. Regardless, the court cannot issue a final decree until six months have passed since filing and after the nisi period of ninety days has elapsed.

Are Divorce Records Public in Vermont?

Yes, divorce records are public documents under the Vermont Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, the court may order the removal or redaction of documents or information that violates privacy laws. These restricted records contain sensitive and confidential information such as information on minors, social security numbers, and financial information. Consequently, only authorized entities can access sealed divorce records. An interested member of the public must obtain a court order that grants access to inspect the documents of interest. Even when the court does grant access to a sealed divorce record, the custodian must redact sensitive information before allowing inspection.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching for records simpler, as geographic locations do not limit their activities. Thus, the search engines on third-party sites may help when starting a search for specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or persons involved in the case. These include information such as the city, county, or state of residence or accusation.

Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not government-sponsored. Consequently, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Get Vermont Divorce Records?

  • In-person and via mail:

The request must complete a request form and submit it at the Superior court that adjudicated the case and issued the divorce decree. All in-person visits to the courthouse must be during business hours. For mail requests, the requester must enclose the form in a self-addressed stamped envelope and attach payment for associated fees and a government-issued photo I. D. The court directory lists the address and contact information of Superior courts in Vermont.

All record requests must contain the necessary details to perform a record search. Some of these include the name of the parties, date of the decree, and docket number. Depending on the record management system of the courthouse, the requester may have to provide the names of the presiding judge or attorneys to narrow down the search.

  • Online:

Vermont judiciary maintains a public database of court records. There, interested requesters can find divorce records with the relevant search parameters. However, only basic case information is available to anonymous users. Having broader access to case information on the database involves signing up and requesting elevated access. Meanwhile, eligible requesters can get divorce certificates from the Vital Statistics Division of the Department of Health for a fee. However, this service is only available to individuals who have first-tier familial relationships with the divorcees. Legal designees must produce a notarized release from the divorcee and submit a government-issued photo I. D. 

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