The Vermont Judiciary consists of an appellate court which is the Supreme Court. It also has a trial court known as the Vermont Superior Court. There are 14 units of the Superior Court, one corresponding to each county. The Superior Court has five divisions: civil, criminal, environmental, family, and probate. The Superior Court also has a Judicial Bureau, which has statewide jurisdiction. Each of these courts has a distinct role in providing justice.
Each of Vermont's 14 counties has a Superior Court made up of four separate divisions. The Civil Division is a trial court where civil matters such as breach of contract, eviction, foreclosure, personal injury, land disputes, medical malpractice and wrongful death cases are heard. Appeals from the Probate Division are also heard in the Civil Division. While the Civil Division is not designed for pro se litigants (people representing themselves in court cases), there is no rule against it. People appearing in the Civil Division are expected to be familiar with the Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure and with the Vermont Rules of Evidence. The geographic jurisdiction for the Civil Division is the county in which it is located.
The Civil Division also includes Small Claims Court, which is designed for pro se litigants. Forms are provided in Small Claims Court. Cases asking for money up to $5,000 can be filed there.
U.S. Passport applications are processed at some Civil Divisions throughout the state, although not all provide that service.
All Vermont counties have a courthouse with a criminal division. The criminal division is also known as criminal court. A superior court judge determines the guilt or innocence of a person charged with a crime through jury trials, court trials and guilty pleas.
The criminal division manages felony and misdemeanor criminal cases. In a criminal case, a person is accused by the state of Vermont of breaking a state law. These cases may include the most serious cases from other divisions such as fish and game, and traffic violations. The criminal court judge is also responsible for approving or declining search and arrest warrants.
There are special treatment courts and specialty dockets within the criminal division including adult drug, juvenile drug, mental health and driving under the influence courts.
The Environmental Division is a statewide court that deals with environmental law.
Every Vermont county has a courthouse with a family division. The family division is also called family court. There are no jury trials in family court. Instead, the presiding judge or magistrate makes the decision. Assistant judges may also sit with the presiding judge.
Each family division manages all family related legal matters. Decisions concerning divorce, separation, civil union dissolution, and parentage are decided in the family division. Child support and custody are also decided here. Many people come to the family division to change previous court orders. These usually involve child support, custody arrangements or visitation. When a child has been delinquent, or if they have been abused or neglected, the family court judge decides what will happen to them. Family division determines how best to protect victims of domestic violence. Family division also decides how the state will care for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
The Judicial Bureau has statewide jurisdiction over civil violations. Police and other government agencies can decide to charge civil violations, including for example:
- traffic violations
- municipal ordinance violations
- fishing, hunting, and trapping violations
- alcohol and tobacco violations
- burning and waste disposal violations
- environmental violations
- lead hazard abatement violations
- cruelty to animal violations
- non-criminal marijuana violations
The Probate Division of the Superior Court handles adoptions, correction and establishment of birth, death, and marriage records, emancipation, guardianships, non-resident clergy to perform marriage, probate of estates, trusts, and wills. There are 14 Probate Division judges who are elected for four-year terms.
The Supreme Court reviews cases from state courts and agencies. These are called "appeals." The Court also adopts rules of procedure used in state courts and manages the court system. The Court oversees the admission of attorneys to the practice of law, and the discipline of attorneys and judges.