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. [15 V.S.A. § 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.
Child support in Vermont is calculated using specific guidelines and rules. You and the other parent (the term parent in this section also refers to others with legal responsibility for the child) can agree to a child support amount, but the court will review any agreement to make sure it is consistent with the guidelines. You can't just choose an amount that seems fair. For that reason, you should read this entire section carefully. If you do reach an agreement, you can complete a proposed Child Support Order, form 400-00802. You can find the form in the Forms section below. File with the court the completed form and the worksheet you used to calculate the child support amount.
The first thing you have to do is complete the financial affidavits. These contain the essential information for figuring out how much child support is due.
The court will schedule a case manager conference after a case is filed. You can find more information about the case manager conference on this site (Select Case Management here). The case manager can help you reach an agreement about child support. If you agree, the case manager can help prepare an order for the judge or magistrate to sign. The court then approves it or schedules a hearing.
You and the other parent can’t just pick a number and hope that the court will agree. The court must apply the child support guidelines and the legal rules described on this page.
If you and the other parent agree to a child support order, the case manager will give it to the magistrate to review. If everything is in order, the judge or magistrate will sign it.
If you are not able to reach an agreement after working with the case manager, the court will schedule a hearing. Your hearing will be with a magistrate. A magistrate is a judge who deals specifically with child support cases and certain other temporary matters. More specifics about the hearing or the process can be found here (Select Motions and a Temporary Hearing here). After a hearing, the magistrate will issue a child support order.
A child support order from the court is effective until it is modified by the court. You do not have the right to change the order yourself, even if both parents agree.
When you file forms, you must always include the docket number, which is the number the court has assigned to your case, if one has been assigned already. It is important to remember this docket number and to add it to all paperwork you file with the court.
If you are the person who is filing the case, you are the plaintiff.
If you are the person who has been served the initial paperwork by the other parent, you are the defendant.
You will always be the plaintiff or defendant while the case is pending.
The court will rely on both parties’ completed financial affidavits to calculate child support. You both must fill out the financial affidavits. If you are the person filing the case, you must complete the form with your initial paperwork. If the other parent files the case, you must fill it out before the case manager conference. Both parties must file the form with the court. And each party must give the other party a copy of the completed form. If the Office of Child Support (OCS) is involved in the case, each parent must give a completed copy to OCS. You should also keep a copy for yourself and bring it with you to court.
To confirm the information on the affidavit, each parent has the right to see the other parent's four most recent pay stubs. If you are self-employed, you must provide the income and expense records of your business. Each parent must also exchange income tax returns for the past two years.
There are several ways to fill out financial affidavits, which are sometimes called "813" forms:
- Contact the Office of Child Support (OCS) for help in completing the forms and for information about the process. OCS will help both parents.
- Print the forms from the website and fill them out by hand.
- Get the forms from court and fill them out by hand.
- Fill out the forms online and print the completed forms.
- Fill out the forms online and email the completed forms.
There are three types of 813 forms:
- Form 813S: This form is used in parentage cases only.
- Form 813A: This form is used in divorce cases. It has to do with income and expenses. It will take you about an hour to fill this form out accurately.
- Form 813B: You fill out this form if the court, case manager, or other party asks you to do so. It has to do with property and assets. It will take you about an hour to fill this form out accurately.
You can find the forms at the bottom of this web page. Instructions are included as part of the form.
Child support is calculated by using the guidelines. In some cases a court will allow a deviation from the child support guidelines, or will order a child support maintenance supplement in addition to the G.I. child support obligation.
Using the Child Support Guidelines
Children are entitled to be supported by both of their parents. The child support guidelines ensure that child support orders are consistent from county to county. They are designed to make sure that children receive the same proportion of their parents’ combined incomes when their parents live apart as they would if their parents lived together. The Vermont guidelines base the child support calculation on the combined income of both parents.
The guidelines take of the following things into account in determining the child support obligation:
- How many overnights the child spends with each parent
- Whether there is at least one child living with each parent (split parenting)
- The gross incomes or earning capacity of both parents
- Who pays for the child’s health insurance
- Whether either parent is paying a prior child support obligation or has other minor children living in the household
- The cost of child care required for a parent to work or go to school, minus any subsidies
- The cost of extraordinary educational and medical expenses
- Any income, such as social security benefits, received by the child
The court usually bases the child support calculation on your actual earned income. However, in some cases the court may use an imputed income. For example, a parent may decide to leave a job to stay home, or to change to a job with a lower salary. If so, the court may calculate the child support obligation based on the income earned from the job the parent left. If a parent shows that the reduction of income was reasonable, the court may use the new, actual income.
The person who pays is known as the obligor. The person who receives the money is known as the obligee. The guideline amount is presumed by the court to be the amount to be paid. In some cases the court will deviate from this amount and order support at a different level.
Calculating child support can be complicated. There are three ways you can calculate child support once you have the financial information of both parties:
- Do it yourself by using the child support calculator, or by hand.
- Contact the Office of Child Support for assistance.
- Ask the case manager to help you.
Child Support Calculator
You can use the Child Support calculator of the Office of Child Support.
Calculating Child Support by Hand
The Office of Child Support has instructions for calculating child support by hand. The instructions vary depending on whether you have sole, split, or shared custody.
- For the purpose of child support, you have sole custody if the child spends more than 75 percent of nights at your house.
- Split custody means that each parent has physical custody of at least one child.
- Shared custody means that the child spends at least 25 percent of nights with each parent.
Child support is based on the number of overnights with each parent.
The Office of Child Support (OCS) has instructions for calculating child support in cases with sole, split, and shared custody. You will also need these tables for converting adjusted gross income to after tax income. Written instructions are available from the court or OCS.
For more information about calculating child support by hand, you can visit the Office of Child Support calculator page.
Deviations from the Child Support Guidelines
The amount of child support calculated under the guidelines is presumed to be what is necessary to support the child. If you think the guideline amount is unfair but the other parent does not, you can ask the court for a deviation hearing.
In the hearing you must convince the court the guideline payment is unfair in light of the factors listed earlier. The court can deviate from the child support guidelines if a parent proves that the guideline amount is unfair or unreasonable to either of the parents or to the child. The court considers these factors:
- Financial resources of the child
- Financial resources of the custodial parent
- Standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parents lived together
- Physical and emotional condition of the child
- Educational needs of the child
- Financial resources and needs of the noncustodial parent
- Costs of meeting the educational needs of either parent, if the costs are incurred for the purpose of increasing the earning capacity of the parent
- Extraordinary travel expenses incurred for parent–child contact
- Any other factor the magistrate finds relevant
You and the other parent can agree to a different amount of child support if you both agree that the guideline amount is unfair, with court approval. If you both agree to depart from the guidelines, you must ask the court for a deviation. The court’s role is to ensure that the child’s needs are met. If the court finds that the reasons for the different amount of child support do not make sense, the court will not approve the agreement.
In some cases the court will order the obligor to make a payment in addition to child support. This is called a child support maintenance supplement. It is different from spousal maintenance (alimony). It is ordered as part of the overall child support order.
The court will not order a maintenance supplement unless you request it.
If a party asks for a child support maintenance supplement, the court will consider the financial resources of both parents. In particular, the court will consider:
- Each parent’s gross income
- Each parent’s assets (wealth)
- Each parent’s debts, including tax obligations
- The amount of child support ordered
With these factors in mind, the court will consider whether an additional amount of money is necessary to correct any disparity in the financial circumstances of the parties if the court finds that the disparity has resulted or will result in a lower standard of living for the child than the child would have if living with the noncustodial parent.
The purpose of this payment is to make sure that the parents have similar ability to care for the child. It is hard for children to see that one parent barely has enough income to put food on the table, while the other parent takes the children on vacations and gives them expensive presents.
Health Insurance and Medical Expenses for the Child
In addition to setting child support, the magistrate will make orders for the child's health care. This includes health insurance and uninsured medical expenses.
If you have health insurance through your employer at a reasonable cost, the magistrate may order you to cover the child. If you do, the amount you pay for the child’s health insurance will be deducted from your income in the child support guidelines calculation. That means that your health insurance payments will be taken into account.
You and the other parent will generally be required to share the child’s health expenses that are not covered by insurance. These may include medical, dental, orthodontic, and optical expenses, as well as prescriptions. The child support guidelines already take into account the first $200 of uninsured health expenses for the child. That means that the parent who receives support should pay for these. Both parents divide the expenses over $200.
Making Child Support Payments: Wage Withholding and Direct Payments
Most child support orders require an employer to withhold the child support payment from the paying parent's wages. If you are the parent paying support, the Office of Child Support (OCS) will tell your employer what amount to withhold from your paychecks for child support. Your employer will send the payment to the OCS registry. OCS keeps a record of the payment and then sends it to the receiving parent. OCS charges an administrative fee for this service. You can avoid the fee by signing up for Office of Child Support services. (Select Office of Child Support here)
The purpose of withholding is to make sure the obligor makes payments regularly and on time. Withholding can also make life easier for both of you.
You and the other parent can agree in writing that you do not want withholding. If you do, the court may approve what is called a direct payment order. With direct payment, the paying parent (obligor) is responsible for paying the child support according to the terms of the court order. That means that payments must be made in full and on time. If you have a direct payment order, you must keep your own written records of the payments. There is no third party keeping track for you.
If you can’t agree on wage withholding, but you feel strongly that withholding shouldn't occur, you can ask the court for a direct payment order. The court will consider whether you have a history of financial responsibility toward the family. If the magistrate finds that you have always paid support regularly in the past, the court may approve a direct payment order.
If you have a direct payment order, you must make your payments on time. If you are ever late seven days or more with a single payment, the other parent can file a written request asking the court for an expedited hearing. After that hearing, the court may revoke the direct payment order and order that all future payments be withheld from your paycheck.
A child support order issued by the court is effective until it is modified (changed) by the court. Parents do not have the right to modify the order themselves. If unanticipated changes of circumstances have occurred so that the amount of child support should be changed, you must file a Motion to Modify Child Support with the court. You can find the form at the bottom of this page, in the Forms section.
If the paying parent fails to pay child support, the child involved will suffer. Vermont law requires that child support be withheld from wages if any payment is late seven days or more. In addition, child support orders can be enforced in other ways.
Failure to follow a court order is a serious matter. If the other parent stops making the full child support payments ordered by the court, you have two options:
- You can go back to the court that issued the order and file a motion asking the court to enforce the order. In some cases, if the other parent has already failed to pay after an enforcement order, you can ask the court to find the other parent in contempt of court.
- You can ask the Office of Child Support for help by calling 1-800-786-3214. Or you can go to the Office of Child Support Website.
Completing the Motion and Affidavit
If the other parent does not pay the court-ordered child support, you can file a Motion to Enforce Child Support and an affidavit. You can find the forms at the bottom of this page in the Forms section.
A Motion to Enforce is a written request that the court enforce the support order. The Motion to Enforce should state how much support is owed. You can ask the court to enter a judgment and order repayment. If the failure to pay is intentional, you can ask the court to add a civil penalty of up to 10 percent of all support that is overdue by 30 days or more.
An affidavit (sworn statement) must be attached to your Motion to Enforce. Your affidavit should outline how the other parent has violated the order. You must sign the affidavit in front of a notary public because you will be swearing to the truth and accuracy of your statements. The court clerk can serve as a notary public for you.
If the child support was paid through the Office of Child Support, you should attach a copy of the OCS payment record to your motion. If child support has been paid directly between you and the other parent, attach records showing how you calculated the back support due.
You have two options for completing the Motion to Enforce Child Support form:
- Contact the Office of Child Support for assistance.
- Get the Motion to Modify Child Support and affidavit forms online or from the court. You can fill them out by hand, or fill them out online and print them when you are done.
If you file a motion before a final order is issued, you must send a copy to the other parent or the other parent's attorney. If the Office of Child Support is involved, you should send a copy to them. To prove that you have sent the motion to everyone you are supposed to send it to, you must file a Certificate of Service with the court. Be sure to keep a copy of everything you file.
If you file a motion after a final child support order, you must serve the other party. You should serve the parent and not the lawyer who represented them in the divorce. There are rules about how to do this. For more information about serving papers, follow the online instructions.
At the enforcement hearing, the court will ask whether support has been paid as ordered and, if not, how much is due. If there is a dispute about who paid what, the parents will be asked to show records. These may include copies of canceled checks or other proof of payment. Once the court has determined the amount that has not been paid, it will order repayment. If the paying parent can pay all the back support, the court may order a lump sum payment. If a lump sum payment cannot be made, the court will order a payment plan. A judgment will be entered for the unpaid support. Interest or a surcharge will accumulate on this judgment.
If the paying parent is unemployed at the time of the enforcement hearing, the court can order the parent to seek work immediately. The paying parent may also be required to report to the court, the other parent, or the Office of Child Support on an ongoing basis regarding the efforts to find work. If the parent fails to look for work, the court can find the parent in contempt.
If the court determines that the paying parent deliberately failed to pay the support as ordered, the court can order up to a 10 percent penalty on amounts overdue by more than 30 days. The court can also order the delinquent parent to reimburse the parent who was entitled to the support for attorney’s fees or other costs incurred for having to come to court to enforce the child support order.
Child Support Contempt
Contempt is willful disobedience of a court order to pay child support when the paying parent had the ability to pay. If a parent has done everything possible to pay what the court order requires, but still has been unable to fully comply, the court will not find the parent in contempt. But if the court determines that a parent failed to comply and could have, the court can impose sanctions. The most drastic sanction is jailing the parent until they pay the amount owed. A parent has a right to a lawyer if the court is considering this sanction. Contempt is a matter with serious consequences.
You should know that even if the other parent fails to pay child support, this is not a basis for you to deny parent–child contact. If the other parent denies you parent–child contact, it is also not a basis for you to stop paying child support. To do either of these things will place you in danger of being found in contempt by the court.
In Vermont the Office of Child Support (OCS) of the Department for Children and Families provides a wide range of child support services to parents. OCS collects and distributes child support payments, locates noncustodial parents and their assets, determines the financial ability of parents to pay support, and enforces child support obligations.
Parents who receive CAS public assistance benefits will receive these services automatically when their case is referred by the Economic Services Division of the Department for Children and Families.
Parents who are not receiving public assistance can receive these services without charge simply by completing and filing a written application form with the Office of Child Support. You can find the form on the Child Support Application web page, or you can call the OCS toll-free number: 800-786-3214.
If you are trying to enforce a child support order, OCS can help in many ways. There is no fee for the service, and all parents involved in child support matters are eligible. OCS can take many of these steps without going back to court. See the Child Support Services web page for more information. OCS can do some of these things without a court order:
- Intercept tax refunds. OCS has the power to intercept (capture) the other parent's income tax refunds if the back child support owed is at least $500.
- Report to credit bureaus. If the back child support is at least $1,000, OCS can report the amount of child support owed to credit bureaus. That may make it harder for the other parent to get loans unless the support is paid.
- Capture lottery winnings.
- Request suspension or nonrenewal of a license. If the obligor has a professional license, a driver's license, or even a hunting or fishing license in Vermont, OCS can report the parent to the licensing authority. Until that parent can show that they are current in the child support obligation or have made a plan to become current, the license may not be renewed or may be suspended.
- Contact the parent who owes the money.
- Issue a wage-withholding order.
- Put liens on property.
In some cases, OCS will also file a Motion to Enforce Child Support. At the court hearing, an OCS representative will be there to represent the interests of your child.
The Office of Child Support provides only child support services. It cannot help with parent–child contact, parental rights and responsibilities, property division, or other non-support-related aspects of a divorce or parentage case.
The Office of Child Support does not represent you and is not a substitute for a lawyer. Although an OCS representative can appear at a conference with the case manager or at a hearing before the magistrate, its role is to act on behalf of the State of Vermont. The State has an interest in making sure children get the support they are due by law. Also, OCS has a duty to try to collect on the debt if either party owes past due support (arrears) to the Economic Services Division or the other party.
When Can a Child Support Order Be Changed?
As parents' incomes change and children grow older support for the children also changes. When changes happen, you can ask the court to change the child support order. To do this, you must show there has been a "real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances" since the court's last child support order. If the child support order has not been modified by the court for at least three years, the court may waive the requirement of a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances.
A change is considered real and substantial in the following circumstances:
- The change would make the child support amount under the child support guidelines at least 10 percent higher or lower than the amount of the current child support order.
- A parent receives Workers' Compensation, disability benefits, or means-tested. public assistance benefits.
- A parent receives unemployment benefits, unless the period of unemployment was taken into account in the original order.
- A parent is incarcerated for more than 90 days, unless the incarceration is for failure to pay child support.
- The child has turned 18 and completed secondary education.
Changes in the parenting plan can also be a reason to seek a modification. For example, if the court changes the number of nights the child spends with each parent, the new child support calculation may be different.
Voluntarily quitting your job and reducing your income generally is not a substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances. However, you may persuade the court that you had a good reason to do that.
Many parents are seasonally unemployed. If the court took that into account in calculating the amount of child support in the first place, the seasonal unemployment would not be considered unanticipated.
How Do You Find Out the Other Parent's Income?
Once per year, each parent may ask the other parent for a copy of their last income tax return, recent pay stubs showing employment income, and other paperwork showing what the parent is earning at this time. As long as parents have an obligation to support their children, they are required by law to exchange this information once per year when asked. They must do this even if the court is not involved.
This informal exchange of income information gives each parent the chance to see whether the child support should be adjusted.
How Can You Get the Order Modified?
To ask the court to change a child support order, you must file a motion with an affidavit. A motion is a request for the court to take some action. An affidavit is your statement as to why you are asking for a change in the child support order. The affidavit must also state the real, substantial, and unanticipated changes of circumstances. You must sign this statement in front of a notary public. At that point you must swear to the truth of the statements contained in the affidavit.
You have two options for completing the motion to modify child support form: (1) contact the Office of Child Support (OCS), or (2) get the forms from the court and fill them out yourself. These options are explained here:
- The Office of Child Support (OCS) can help you with these forms.
- You can find the forms to ask to change a child support order at the bottom of this web page, or from the court.
When you file the paperwork, you will have to pay a filing fee. (For more information, select Family Division Fee. Information is located under Filing for entry of divorce, annulment, or dissolution of civil union or legal separation). See the Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs web page for information and forms.
Where to File
If you have a final child support order, file your motion in the family division in the county where the final child support order was issued.
If you file a motion before a final order is issued, you must send a copy to the other parent or the other parent's attorney. If the Office of Child Support is involved, you should send a copy to them. To prove that you have sent the motion to everyone you are supposed to send it to, you must file a Certificate of Service with the court. You can find the form at the bottom of this web page. Be sure to keep a copy of everything you file.
If you file a motion after a final order, you must serve the other parent. You should serve the party and not the lawyer who represented them. The process is the same as that for serving a complaint to start a case. There are rules about how to do this. You can find more information on the Serving Papers in Family Division Cases web page.
Modification by Agreement
If the other parent agrees to the modification, the two of you can file with the court. You will need to send the following three things:
- Completed child support order
- Completed income and asset affidavits from each of you
- Child support worksheet
If you have trouble filling out the worksheet or child support order, contact the Office of Child Support or the case manager in the court to help you.
If the court approves your agreement, it will issue a new child support order and no hearing will be necessary. If the court has questions about your requested modification, a hearing will be set.
If you and the other parent can't agree, the court will schedule a hearing on the motion to modify.
Can the Parents Informally Modify Their Own Child Support Orders?
Any modification of a child support order must be approved by the court. If you both agree to change the support, the change will not legally take effect until the court approves it.
If you informally agree to change the support amount without going to court, the court cannot enforce your agreement. Say the other parent is obligated to pay support to you and gets laid off. You may both agree informally to reduce the child support. Later, you may have a falling out, and you may decide that the child support order should be enforced. If you take the issue to court, the court will enforce the original child support order as written. That may be a higher amount than your informal agreement. The court will also order payment of all unpaid support.
When Is the Modification Effective?
The court will change the support order only if you ask for a change in writing. If the modification is granted, the court can change the support starting on the date you first filed the motion to modify. The court cannot make the modification effective before the date you file the motion. Therefore, if you believe you are entitled to a modification, it is important to file as soon as possible. Until the order is modified, the original child support order remains in effect even if the circumstances have changed.