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Civil Union and Marriage Related
Civil Union Frequently Asked Questions
How do I dissolve my civil union?
The Vermont Superior Court, Family Division has jurisdiction over all proceedings relating to dissolution of civil unions. It follows the same procedures as dissolving a civil marriage (divorce), and is subject to the same rights and obligations, including a Vermont residency requirement of 12 months before a dissolution is granted.
You will need to address division of your property and debts. If you have children you will need to decide parental rights and responsibilities (custody), parent-child contact (visitation) and arrange for child support.
The family court has forms and other information pamphlets that will give you more information for filing for dissolution of your civil union.
Click here for more information:
Frequently Asked Questions
After the court has issued a Final Divorce Order can you make a change to it?
By law you have to show to the Court, that it is because of important “unanticipated changes in circumstances.”
You CANNOT make changes to a Final Order dealing with your property.You can request the court change child support, spousal maintenance (alimony)and parental rights and responsibilities.
If there have been important, unanticipated, changes in circumstances after theorder was issued, you may request the court to change part of the divorce plan. Youcannot change the plan outlining how to divide your property, but child support,spousal maintenance (alimony) and parental rights and responsibilities may bemodified. (See pamphlets on Modification of Child Support (#32) and Modification of
Court Orders (#31). The court must approve changes to the divorce order beforethey are valid. Therefore it is important that an agreement reached to change courtorders be put in writing and that you ask the judge to change the divorce order.
You can obtain helpful information, as well as court forms at:www.VermontJudiciary.org.
Do I need to file for legal separation before I file for a divorce or civil union dissolution?
No. A person can file for a divorce (or civil union dissolution) and a divorce can be granted without ever filing for a legal separation. A legal separation is for those couples who want to live separately, divide all their property, etc., but still want to be married for legal reasons.
How are decisions made in a Divorce?
Once the divorce has been started in the Family Division, decisions must be maderegarding parenting of children, support and what to do with property. Contrary topopular belief, judges rarely decide the difficult questions in the divorce. Most peopledo not like giving up their right to determine for themselves how to take care of theirchildren and how to divide up their property and income. Therefore, most cases areresolved by agreements made by the people involved rather than the judge.
In a contested hearing (trial), the parties present their case to a judge, never to ajury. Each spouse has a limited amount of time in which to present information. Thejudge follows rules (known as the Rules of Evidence,) that often limit the type of
information that may be presented. As a judge can never learn in a trial as muchabout a family and what is best for the children as the families know, people who let
the judge make the decisions are not always happy with the result.
How do I prepare for a Contested Hearing on Property Division?
If you and your spouse cannot agree on how to divide all your property, you still mayhave some agreement, which you can put in writing and file with the court before thehearing. With personal property (cars, furniture etc.) you should write a list of whatyou cannot agree upon and what you believe the market value is for each item. Ifyou cannot agree on the market value of cars, boats, or other expensive property,
you may want to get an appraisal and bring the appraiser as a witness to thehearing.
You should prepare what you want to tell to the judge in the same manner as thefactors identified above, starting with how many years you have been married, yourage and health etc. You should bring documentation to court that shows the value ofthe property, such as your house appraisal, bank statements, pension or retirementor other investment statements. You should also bring documentation about the
debts on the property and other debts from your marriage.
How does being in the military affect the court process and court orders?
The law protects a spouse on active duty in the military and sometimes hearings are postponed or suspended until the service member can participate. The purpose of the law is to enable service members to devote full attention to their duties.
If the ability of the service member to either defend or pursue a court matter is "materially affected" by his or her military service, the court is required to wait. Thus if a spouse cannot attend a hearing due to military service, and the outcome will depend on his participation, the hearing may be postponed. Under normal circumstances, however, temporary decisions regarding parental rights and responsibilities and child support will be decided in the absence of the service member spouse in order to protect the best interest of the children involved.
Reservists and members of the National Guard are also protected by this law while on active duty.
Click here for more information on Child Custody.
Click here for more information on Child Support.
How does filing for bankruptcy change my financial obligations in family division?
Filing for bankruptcy does not change the child support obligation; you will still have to pay your child support under the child support order in effect. Filing for bankruptcy also does not generally change alimony or maintenance obligations; you usually will have to continue to pay your alimony or maintenance.
Once a bankruptcy petition is filed with the Bankruptcy Court, the Family Division cannot change or modify child support or maintenance payments. This is because the Vermont State courts cannot make any orders, except enforcement of support orders, while the bankruptcy is being handled in Bankruptcy Court.
Filing for bankruptcy can affect a divorce property settlement. Typically, if one spouse owes another spouse some property as part of a divorce order, this property award can be "discharged," or canceled, in bankruptcy. If possible, you should try to make sure that you get a mortgage on any real property that you are awarded, or that you get a security interest in any personal property that is awarded to you in the divorce.
You should consult an experienced bankruptcy lawyer
, if you think there is a possibility that your spouse will file for bankruptcy if there are outstanding property and support obligations in a divorce.
Click here for more information.
How is a court order for a divorce created?
Court orders are created in two ways: You can make your own agreements whichcan be approved by the judge and are made part of a court order, or the judge canmake an order after a contested hearing. Both orders are treated the same way andthe purpose of court orders is to insure that the plan agreed to, or directed by thejudge, is followed. Court orders are enforced through the process of contempt, whichin the most extreme circumstances may result in a jail term for the violator.
How the Court Decides How the Property Should be Divided:
The court, by law, has to look at several factors to determine how the propertyshould be divided. Those factors are the following:
1. The length of the marriage;
2. The age and health of the parties;
3. The job and source and amount of income of each of the parties;
4. The vocational skills and employability of each spouse;
5. The contribution by one spouse to the education, training, or increasedearning power of the other;
6. The value of all property interests, liabilities, and needs of each party;
7. Whether the property settlement is to be awarded instead of, or in additionto, spousal maintenance;
8. The opportunity of each party to obtain future capital assets and income;
9. The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live there forreasonable periods to the spouse having custody of the children;
10. The party through whom the property was acquired;
11. The contribution of each spouse in the acquisition, preservation, anddepreciation or appreciation in value of the respective estates, including thenon monetary contribution of a spouse as a homemaker; and
12. The respective merits of the parties. (e.g., whether either party was abusive,or committed adultery, or was an alcoholic).
Which factor may be more or less important depends on the individual case, and the judgedoesnothave to place equal weight on each factor.
I am choosing not to hire a lawyer, what will I need to know?
IF YOU REPRESENT YOURSELF, the court will say that you are
means that you will be representing yourself without a lawyer. If you are representing yourself you
learn about the Divorce Process and the Forms you need to fill out and file with the court. The court offers
Education classes for people who are representing themselves. The court also has helpful information you can get from the staff.
Click here for more information.
My ex, who now lives in Vermont, refuses to send our children home after a 2 week vacation. How do I get the out of state divorce order, which decreed that the children should live with me, enforced in Vermont?
You must send a certified copy of the Final Divorce Order to:
Vermont Supreme Court
109 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05609-0701
Once the property division is final can it be modified?
Unlike child support and parenting plans, the property division
be changedafter the divorce is final. This means that once your divorce is granted, the divisionof property is final. It is important, therefore, that your property division is not tied
to your child support or your parenting plan.
What happens if a Spouse does not follow a Divorce Order?
NOTE: The following does not apply to failure to follow a relief from abuse order. There are special rules for such orders.
(See #10, Divorce and Relief from Abuse)
Failure to follow a divorce order is a serious matter. The court can enforce its own orders through contempt in which the most drastic remedy is jailing the offending spouse. Before the court sends anyone to jail, however, the court will often first attempt to take less drastic steps to get people to do what the order says. The difference between enforcement and contempt is described below.What is a Petition or Motion to Enforce?
A Petition/Motion to Enforce is a written request (you can ask the clerk for a form 823) asking the court to enforce an order. Typically, the Petition or Motion will state the date of the order that you want enforced, what the order says and which part is not being followed. You can ask the court to order the offending spouse to pay your costs for having to file the Petition or Motion to Enforce, and for having to prepare for the hearing and come to the hearing.
You need to attach an affidavit (sworn statement) to the Motion to Enforce which outlines how the other spouse has violated the order The Motion
be signed before a notary public.
As with any motion, the other spouse (or ex-spouse) must be served with your Petition or Motion to Enforce, Affidavit and other paperwork before a hearing can be held. (
See #25 Serving the Divorce Papers)
Some courts will hold a status conference before a hearing is scheduled.
What Happens at an Enforcement Hearing?
The judge or magistrate will ask what part of the order has not been followed, and why. If possible, attempts will be made to work out the problems so that the order is followed. If the judge or magistrate has to order enforcement, the judge may also order that the costs and attorney's fees of the person who had to ask the court for help be paid by the person who did not follow the court order.
What is Contempt?
Contempt is willful disobedience of a court order when the obligated spouse has the ability or the capacity to comply with the order. If a spouse, or former spouse, has done everything possible to do what the order requires, the Court will not find the spouse in contempt. But if the Court determines that the spouse willfully failed to comply and had the capacity to comply, the Court may jail the spouse until such time as she or he complies with the order. Contempt is the last resort to make a spouse or former spouse follow court orders. Contempt is a matter with severe consequences. Motions for contempt are heard by the Family Court Judge.
(Please note that even if a non-custodial parent fails to pay court ordered child support, that is
a basis to refuse the parent parent-child contact. Conversely, if a custodial parent refuses to honor the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights, that is also not a basis for the non-custodial parent to stop paying child support. To do either of these things will place you in danger of being found in contempt by the court.)
What Property Can the Court Divide?
In Vermont, the courts will divide all marital property at the time of your divorce.Virtually all property is considered to be marital property. For instance, property, which you or your spouse inherits, is considered marital property, and property given to you or your spouse by a family member is also considered marital property. The court can also divide property which either spouse owned before the marriage. It does not matter in whose name the property is held.
What should I do if I need a lawyer and/or legal advice?
Court staff cannot provide legal advice, so we refer you to the resources below:
Vermont Legal Aid provides legal assistance to many low income, elderly and disabled families. Call them at 1-800-889-2047 for more information.
You can find information about family law and how to find an attorney athttp://www.vtlawhelp.org/Home/PublicWeb.
The Vermont Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service (1-800-639-7036) can give you the names of lawyers in your area who handle divorce matters.
Many lawyers will help you by counseling you and providing information and advice while you represent yourself.
Click here for more information:
Who Decides How the Property Should be Divided:
All marital property will be divided equitably. You and your spouse are in the bestposition to decide what is equitable or fair, and you should make every attempt toagree on a division. If you leave the decision to the judge, the judge will divide theproperty in a way that seems fair to the court. An "equitable division" of propertydoes not necessarily mean a 50/50 split. Sometimes the courts will presume that the
property should be split approximately equally, in the absence of the other factors.
If a piece of property has been in the family of one spouse for many years, it is likelythat the judge will order that piece of property to remain with that spouse. If youcannot agree how to divide other personal property, like kitchen items and furnitureetc., it is likely that the judge will attempt to make your two new householdsfunctional by giving you each some property, unless the marriage is of very shortduration.
Whose responsibility is it to pay for debts my spouse and I have which we are both responsible for? Such as a bank or family loans, credit cards, medical bills or utility bills.
Your divorce does not make either spouse free from the financial responsibility incurred while you were married. If a creditor cannot collect the debt from one of the spouses, the creditor can sue the other spouse for the debt.
Cars may be repossessed and homes lost through bank foreclosure unless the spouses make a responsible and timely plan for how the debts will be paid off. Unpaid debts could result in both ex-spouses having a bad credit report and the loss of future credit.
Spouses in a divorce may protect themselves by refinancing loans so that only one spouse will be liable on the debt. If you have debts which cannot be refinanced, carefully worded agreements which address in detail which spouse is responsible for repayment of the loan including the interest on the loan, the amounts to be repaid and over what periods of time, can provide protection for both spouses.
if you are unsure of how you can protect your financial interest.
Click here for more information.
Civil Union and Marriage Related Information
Civil Union dissolution
Debts and divorce
Divorce and RFA pamphlet
Divorce in Vermont Pamphlet
Divorcing Someone in the Military
Do you need a lawyer?
DOMESTIC RELATIONS & ANNULMENT/DIVORCE – REFERENCE SHEET
Enforcement of the divorce order.
Glossary of Court Terms
How decisions are made in the divorce
How do we divide our pension plan?
How the Courts divide the property of divorce
How to fill out the 813 financial affidavt of income and assets
How to fill out the paperwork required to start a divorce
How to get along in the courtroom.
I need a lawyer, how do I find one?
Mechanics of divorce for litigants without minor children
Mechanics of divorce for parents with minor children
Modification of child support orders
Modification of court orders
Motions and petitions
Parent and Child Contact
Preparing an answer and preparing a counterclaim to the complaint.
Serving the divorce papers.
Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)
The Effects of Divorce on Children
The uncontested final hearing
You want to represent yourself: What are your responsibilities?
Civil Union with Children
Civil Union without Children
Divorce with Children
Divorce without Children
Non-Resident Civil Dissolution/Divorce
Separation with Children
Separation without Children
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