So far we have explained the basics of how the court’s Family Division works, but there is still a lot more to know. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
Q. What if I need a divorce but we have no children?
A. Your divorce case will be simpler. Fill out the Complaint form for a divorce without children. After you file and serve the papers, the case will go through the same steps as a divorce with children.
If you are the defendant in the case (that is, your spouse filed for divorce), within 21 days of being served with the court papers file either a Notice of Appearance or an Answer and Counterclaim. The Notice of Appearance simply tells the court that you are going to take part in the case. The Answer and Counterclaim is a longer form that tells the court that you want a divorce as well. If your spouse decides to withdraw, you can still go forward on your counterclaim for a divorce. It is important to participate to preserve your rights.
Mail a copy of the form you chose to file to your spouse and file the original with the court. Keep a copy for yourself.
Q. If I’m the defendant and I get the divorce papers in the mail, am I agreeing to everything in the Complaint if I sign and return the Acceptance of Service form?
A. No. By signing and returning the Acceptance of Service form, you are only agreeing that you got the divorce papers. You will have the chance to explain where you stand on issues at the case manager’s conference and any mediation or formal hearings you may have.
Q. How is a parentage case (for unmarried parents) different from a divorce?
A. There are several differences between a parentage case and a divorce. In a parentage case:
- The court will not decide any property issues. The only issues decided in a parentage case are parentage, custody, visitation and child support.
- If either party disputes that the alleged father is the father of the child, you may have to go through a paternity test first.
- The court will give a child support order but cannot give a spousal support order (alimony).
Vermont has a new parentage law covering several different ways someone can be a found to be a “parent.” Learn more on our Parentage page.
Q. What issues about the children have to be decided by the court or agreed to by both parties?
A. Here are the issues you need to think about and discuss with the other parent if you can:
- Where will the children be living? With one parent most of the time, or split time with both parents?
- When and under what conditions will the children be spending time with the other parent? If you have good reasons to ask for conditions on visits for safety reasons, raise those issues with the other parent, the case manager or the judge. Examples of special conditions include supervision by another family member or no use of alcohol or drugs during visitation.
- How much child support will be paid?
- Who will be making decisions about the child such as where to go to school or what is appropriate medical treatment?
- How will you cover your child’s health care expenses? Can either of you get medical insurance at work? Is your child eligible for public insurance (Dr. Dynasaur, Medicaid, Green Mountain Care or other state programs)? How will you share medical expenses?
- Are there any other child-related issues that you want to include in your agreement? For example, are religious upbringing, education, medical treatment or grandparent visits an issue?
There are two types of custody (the court calls these “Parental Rights and Responsibilities”): physical (the right to make day to day decisions for the child) and legal (the right to make decisions for the child about non-emergency medical treatment, education, religious upbringing, etc.). Physical and legal rights and responsibilities can be held by one parent or can be shared. Learn more on the Child Custody and Visitation page of our website.
Q. What is a parent coordinator?
A. In rare cases where there is a lot of conflict between the parents, the court can appoint a parent coordinator. This is to help the parents set up a schedule and follow the court’s orders. The parent coordinators are specially trained to look out for the best interests of the child during a divorce or other family case. The parent coordinator will talk to important people in the child’s life and make a very detailed recommendation to the court about what would be the best parent-child contact schedule or parenting plan.
If either parent disagrees with the parent coordinator’s recommendation, they can file an objection with the court. The court will then schedule a hearing to determine whether or not to follow the parent coordinator’s recommendations.
Q. How long will my court case take?
A. When you are getting divorced – even if you have agreed on all issues – you must wait at least six months after living “separate and apart” before you can have a final hearing.
If you have minor children, the court will not schedule a final custody hearing until at least six months after the divorce case was filed.
Q. How do I file for other reasons or “grounds” for divorce?
A. Most divorces in Vermont are granted on the grounds that the parties have lived separate and apart for six consecutive months and are not likely to get back together.
While Vermont law includes six other reasons for divorce, the forms are not set up to let you file a divorce on those grounds. If you decide you want to file for a reason other than that you have been separate and apart for six months and won’t be getting back together, then you should consult a lawyer. If you list a reason for divorce on your forms and do not prove it, the judge may not grant the divorce.
Regardless of the grounds for divorce, abuse may be relevant to other decisions the court must make in a divorce case, like custody, visitation or division of property. Abuse is not relevant to spousal support.