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 in select cases, such as divorces.
Each family division manages all family-related legal matters. Decisions about 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 (called parent–child contact). When a child has been delinquent, abused, or neglected, the family court judge decides how to help or protect that child. The family division determines how best to protect victims of domestic violence. It also decides how the state will care for people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities.
For cases involving minor children: When your family separates, it may be difficult for you as parents and for your children. How you and the other parent handle the changes makes a big difference in how your children respond to the situation. If you have a minor child or children you may be ordered by the court to attend the Coping With Separation and Divorce (COPE) program to help all of you handle your family restructuring. For more information about registering and the schedule of seminars, please contact the UVM extension at 1-800-639-2130 or visit the UVM Extension website. You can also contact your local court for assistance.
The Vermont Legislature has declared as public policy that children of separated parents should get as much support as they would if their parents were living in the same household. [Title 15 Section 650] To promote this policy, Vermont has guidelines for calculating child support. In most cases, the child support one parent pays the other is based on these guidelines. In some cases the court will order a child support payment that is different from the number in the guidelines. That is called a deviation. In other cases the court may order a maintenance supplement in addition to child support. This is different from spousal maintenance.
Special considerations apply when one parent is in the military.
Ending a marriage is stressful and trying, especially if you have children. This information can help guide you through the legal process of a Vermont divorce.
The Vermont Legislature sets most of the fees charged for services provided by the Judiciary. The Justices of the Supreme Court establish rules to govern the allowance of fees not specified by law. Motions or petitions filed by one party at one time shall be assessed one fee.
Families find themselves involved in juvenile court for a number of reasons. All juvenile court proceedings are confidential. The public does not have access to juvenile court files or juvenile court hearings.
The Vermont Superior Court Family Mediation Program helps eligible parties in certain family and probate cases resolve their differences with the assistance of a mediator.
The Vermont Superior Court Parent Coordination Program helps protect children from exposure to adult conflict and reduces the risk of danger to all family members.
If a woman is not married when she has a baby, the father is not legally recognized as the parent. A court order establishing parentage creates that legal recognition. When a child is born to married parents, the law recognizes both of them as the legal parents.
The law assumes that the birth mother is a child's legal parent. If the birth mother is married, the law assumes that her spouse is the child's legal parent as well. If she is not married, the other parent needs a legal order to establish parentage. That's true even if the mother and her partner are living together. And it's true even if the other claimed parent's name is on the birth certificate.
Under Vermont law, you can establish parentage until a child is 21 (or later in some cases).
There are two ways to establish parentage if you are not the child's legally recognized parent or you want to establish who the father is legally: (1) voluntary acknowledgment of parentage or (2) a parentage case in court. This section covers the reasons for establishing parentage, the voluntary acknowledgment of parentage process, and the court process for establishing parentage.
Vermont law is based on the assumption that children are best served when both parents take part in their lives after a separation or divorce.
When parents come to court, they have to make many decisions about their children. The court makes sure the decisions are consistent with the law and are “in the best interests of the child” according to Vermont law. The legal issues are complex and can have long-term effects on families. For this reason, it is often a good idea to consult with a lawyer.
Parental rights and responsibilities are sometimes called child custody.
Parent-child contact is sometimes called parent-time or visitation.
Vermont law provides protection from abuse in families and other close relationships, including in marriage and civil unions. There is special protection offered by Vermont's Abuse Prevention Act.
The court staff has information about how to request a relief from abuse order and how to contact an abuse prevention worker in your community. You can also connect with a local crisis worker through the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. The crisis worker can arrange to have someone other than an attorney go with you to court, and they can tell you about services available in your area.
A Vermont judge can issue an extreme risk protection order against someone who poses an imminent and extreme risk of harming themselves or others to prohibit them from buying, having, or receiving firearms or explosives. This is called an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO).
The legislature has established a process to ask the court for an order to protect a child who is not a U.S. citizen. A petition can be filed in the family division or the probate division, and can be filed as a new case, or filed in an existing case.
A “child” is defined as someone who is under 21 and who is not married. The child must have been:
- found to be a dependent of the court, or
- legally committed to a State agency or department or an individual or entity appointed by the court, or
- placed under the custody of a State agency.
You must be able to show:
- The child has suffered from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar circumstances and their health, safety, or welfare is in jeopardy.
- The child may not be reunified with one or both parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar circumstance.
- It is not in the best interest of the child to return to their country of origin, their parent’s country of origin, or the country of last habitual residence.