This section covers the process and standards for changing, or modifying, an order in a divorce, and for enforcing a final order.

Modifying Divorce Orders

To ask the court to change an order in a divorce case, you must file a motion with an affidavit. A motion is a request for the court to take some action. An affidavit is a sworn statement from you of the facts that support your motion. You must sign it in front of a notary. You can use the Motion to Modify and Affidavit forms.

In your motion and affidavit, you should explain what has happened since the last order that has caused you to seek a change. It isn't enough that you did not agree with the last order. In most cases, you will have to show a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. You should understand the specific standards for modifying the provision(s) you are trying to change (these are discussed later in this section). This is what you will have to show the court before the court will consider changing the existing order.

Filing Fee

When you file the paperwork you will have to pay a filing fee (select Family Division Fees here). If you receive public assistance, are on a fixed income, or have a low-paying job, you can ask the court to waive the filing fee. You do this by filling out an Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs. If you qualify and the court approves your application, you won’t have to pay the fee. For more information about waiving the filing fee and a copy of the application, click here.

Where to File

You should file your motion in the family division that issued the final divorce order. If neither you nor your ex-spouse lives in that county, you may file a motion to change venue. This form allows you to change the family division location where you file your motion.

Service

If you file a motion before the final divorce order, you must send a copy to your spouse or your spouse's attorney. If the Office of Child Support (OCS) is involved, you should send a copy to OCS. 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 divorce order, you must serve the other party. You should serve the party and not the lawyer who represented them in the divorce. The process is the same as serving a divorce complaint to start a divorce case. There are rules about how to do this. The process may be different if you and your ex-spouse have minor children. For more information about serving papers, click here.

Modification Hearing

If there is a provision in your final order that requires that you attend mediation before filing a motion in court, the court may dismiss your motion until mediation is completed. The court will review your motion and affidavit to decide whether your claims meet the standard for modifying the order. If they do not, the court may dismiss the motion without a hearing. If they do, the court will set a hearing date.

If there has not been a final divorce order, the court will send a notice of the hearing to your spouse or your spouse’s lawyer. If there has been a final divorce order, the notice of hearing must be served on your ex-spouse before a hearing can happen. You are responsible for serving the notice of hearing if your ex-spouse has not filed a response to your motion. (Your court may review your motion and affidavit and set a hearing date before you serve the other party. If so, you can serve the hearing notice along with the motion and affidavit. Check with your court  to see whether that is the process.)

Some courts hold a status conference before a hearing on these motions. Some courts set a case manager conference first.

In some cases the court may set a hearing only to determine whether there has been a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. If not, the court cannot change the existing order. If the court concludes that there has been a sufficient change, then it will set a second hearing. At that hearing the court will consider whether and how to change the current order. Sometimes courts consider these issues together in a single hearing.

The court cannot change an existing order until a Motion to Modify is filed with the court. If the requested change is for child support, the court may make a modification effective the date the Motion to Modify was filed with the court. 

Standards for Modifying Divorce Orders

While the divorce is pending, the court may issue one or more temporary orders involving care of the child or children, support, or financial matters. These orders are temporary. They last only until the final divorce order or a new order of the court is issued. The court will generally be reluctant to change a temporary order unless something significant has changed from the time the court issued the order. Your disagreement with the order is not a good enough reason to ask the court to change it.

After the final hearing, the court issues a final order. Once any appeals are done or the period for appealing has ended, this order is final. It is difficult to change. Generally, a court will not consider modifying a final order without a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. A change is considered unanticipated if it is not what was expected at the time of the final divorce. The party that wants to modify the order must prove that the change was real, substantial, and unanticipated.

Modifying Final Child Support Orders

Special rules apply to modifying child support orders. Certain factors are enough to trigger a review of a child support order. You can find more specific information about modifying child support orders on the Child Support Page (select Maintenance and Modification here).

Modifying Final Orders Regarding Care and Custody of Children

A court will not modify parental rights and responsibilities or parent–child contact decisions unless there has been a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. The change must affect the well-being of the child.

Whether relocation by the primary parent is considered a real, substantial, and unanticipated change may depend on factors such as these:

  • How far away that parent moves
  • How much time the other parent was entitled to spend with the child
  • How the move interferes with the other parent's ability to have the parent–child contact ordered by the court
  • The impact of the move on the child's well-being

Modifying Final Orders Regarding Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)

A court will not modify spousal maintenance unless there has been a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. The change must affect one or both of the parties' financial circumstances. Here are changes that may qualify:

  • Unexpected job loss
  • Unexpected disability
  • Unexpected increase in income as a result of a raise or a new job

Modifying Final Orders Regarding Property Division

The court cannot change the final order about division of property or debts after the divorce becomes final. This is true even if there is an unanticipated change of circumstance after the divorce. The one exception to this is a motion to set aside a final judgment. This possibility is available only in rare circumstances.

Setting Aside Final Divorce Orders

In unusual cases the court may agree to set aside a final divorce order or grant a new trial. These cases usually involve:

  • Clerical errors
  • A mistake, oversight, surprise, or excusable neglect 
  • Newly discovered evidence that could not have been discovered sooner
  • Fraud

The standards for these cases are strict. They are governed by Vermont Rules of Civil Procedure 59 and 60 (For information on how to access these and other rules, click on Help Using This Website). It is not enough that you think the court got it wrong. You must show that one of these unusual circumstances applies.

These motions are subject to strict timelines. Read the applicable rules if you are considering filing a motion for a new trial or to set aside the final judgment.

Enforcing Divorce Orders and Contempt Orders

NOTE: The following does not apply to failure to follow a relief from abuse order. There are special rules for such orders. See the section Divorce, Civil Union Dissolution, and Relief From Abuse.

Failure to follow a divorce order is a serious matter. The court can enforce its own orders by finding the offending person in contempt. The most drastic remedy is jailing the offending spouse. Before the court sends anyone to jail, it will often attempt to take less drastic steps to get people to do what the order says. This section describes the difference between enforcement and contempt.

Filing a Motion to Enforce

If your spouse or ex-spouse does not comply with a court order, you can file a Motion to Enforce. A Motion to Enforce is a written request asking the court to make the other party follow an order. The motion should include:

  • The date of the order that you want enforced
  • What that order says the other party is supposed to do
  • What the other party has done or failed to do

You can ask the court to order your spouse to pay your costs for having to file the Motion to Enforce. This would include the cost of having to prepare for and attend the hearing.

You must attach an affidavit to the Motion to Enforce. The affidavit must say how your spouse has not followed the order. You must sign the motion in front of a notary public since you will be swearing to the truth and accuracy of your statements. The court clerk can serve as a notary public for you.

Service

If you file a motion before the final divorce order, you must send a copy to your spouse or your spouse's attorney. If the Office of Child Support (OCS) is involved, you should send a copy to OCS. 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 divorce order, you must serve the other party. You should serve the party and not the lawyer who represented them in the divorce. The process is the same as serving a divorce complaint to start a divorce case. There are specific rules about how to do this. The process may be different if you and your ex-spouse have minor children. For more information about serving papers, click here.

Enforcement Hearing

Before holding a hearing, some courts hold a status conference.

At the hearing, the court will want to know what part of the order has not been followed, and why. If possible, the court will try to work out the problems so that the order is followed. If the court has to order enforcement, it may also order the offending party to pay the costs and attorney's fees of the person who had to ask the court for help.

Contempt

Contempt is willfully disobeying a court order when you have the ability to follow the order. If you have done everything possible to do what the order requires, the court will not find you in contempt. If the court finds that you willfully failed to follow the order, the court may find you in contempt. To do this, the court has to find that you were able to follow the order but refused to. The court can order sanctions against you if you are in contempt.

Contempt is a matter with severe consequences. The court's sanctions for contempt can include jailing you until you follow the order. You have a right to an attorney before the court does that. Contempt is the last resort to make a spouse or former spouse follow court orders.

A noncustodial parent failing to pay the ordered child support is not a reason to refuse parent–child contact. A custodial parent refusing to honor the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights is also not a reason for the noncustodial parent to stop paying child support. Doing either of these things will put you in danger of being in contempt of court.