Video: Getting a divorce in Vermont — Steps 1 and 2
Go to descriptive transcript. Links in this video: Video: Getting a divorce in Vermont – Steps 3 to 6; Divorce Roadmap (this page); Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Legal Services Vermont.
Getting a divorce in Vermont takes time, planning and money. But this Roadmap can help.
This Roadmap will help you understand:
- who is eligible to start a divorce case in Vermont
- what the steps are, and
- when you may want to get more legal help with your divorce.
Keep this in mind:
- The steps in this Roadmap also apply if you had a civil union in Vermont and you want to dissolve the civil union. If you had an out-of-state civil union, you can use this same process only if you don’t have children together and if you are in agreement on the details of the dissolution.
- The steps in this Roadmap also generally apply if you want a legal separation. This is a legal status that is different than a divorce. In a legal separation you can divide your finances and property, and plan the custody and support of your children. But you are still married and you cannot marry someone else.
- If you and your partner were never married but you have children together, you can start a parentage case in family court — not a divorce case. See the information about parentage on our website. However, family court will not resolve any property issues.
- If you and your partner were never married but own property together, you can start a partition case in the Civil Division of Vermont Superior Court. These cases are complicated, and you may want to contact the Vermont Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service for a private lawyer.
Can I start a divorce in Vermont?
Whether or not you can start a divorce in Vermont depends on your answers to a few questions.
Rules on Timing
Do you and/or your spouse live in Vermont now? You can start a Vermont divorce if either of you has lived in Vermont for at least the past six months.
If neither of you live in Vermont, a Vermont family court will only take your divorce case if these four things are true:
- You got married or got a civil union in Vermont.
- You and your spouse currently live in states where you can't get a divorce or dissolve your civil union.
- You don't have school-age children, and
- You and your spouse already have an agreement about how to deal with your property and debts.
How long will a divorce take?
How long the divorce case takes can vary. But here are some issues to keep in mind.
It will take longer the more areas of disagreement there are between you and your spouse. A “stipulated divorce” or “uncontested divorce” — where there is an agreement about both children and property — often takes less time. A “contested divorce” — where there is no agreement — usually takes longer.
Also, all three of these things must be true before you can have your final hearing in your divorce case:
- You and your spouse have lived "separate and apart" for at least six months. This means you are living separate lives. You can still live under the same roof and live “separate and apart.”
- If you are starting your case as a Vermont resident, the court will not have the final hearing until you have lived in Vermont for one year, and
- If you have children together, the court will wait six months between when you started the case and the final hearing.
Keep this in mind:
- These three time periods can run at the same time. #1 and #2 can even start before you started your case. For example, if you (1) lived separately from your spouse for 2 months, and (2) have lived in Vermont for the past 3 years, and (3) don't have children together, you could start the divorce case and get a final divorce hearing in 4 months. This is because you will have lived separately for a total of 6 months before your final hearing.
- The divorce won't become final until 90 days after the final hearing unless you and your spouse agree about property and children. This 90-day period is called the “nisi period”(pronounced “knee-see”) and is a last chance for you and your spouse to reconcile before the divorce becomes final. In a stipulated divorce, you can “waive” (give up) the nisi period.
How much does a divorce cost?
A contested divorce is more expensive than a stipulated divorce.
In January 2022, these were the court filing fees for divorce in Vermont:
- $295 for a contested divorce
- $90 for a stipulated divorce where one of you is a Vermont resident, or
- $180 for a stipulated divorce where neither of you is a Vermont resident.
- Plus, there are fees to “serve” (or deliver) your court papers to your spouse. The fees vary.
Keep this in mind:
- Filing fees may change. You can always find the most current fee information at the Vermont Judiciary's website.
- Can't afford the fees? At Step 3, we will show you how to apply for a fee waiver.
Do I need a lawyer?
Many people get a divorce in Vermont without a lawyer. They follow the steps in this Roadmap or the Vermont Judiciary's divorce pages. Representing yourself without a lawyer is called “pro se” (pronounced “proh-say”). But some cases are more complicated.
You may want to speak with a lawyer about your case if:
- There has been domestic violence or other abuse against you or your children.
- You have a disability that makes it hard to represent yourself in court. You may also want to apply for a Communication Specialist to be with you in court hearings and meetings. This person is not a lawyer and does not represent you but can help you understand and communicate with the court.
- Your spouse has a lawyer.
- You and/or your spouse own real estate or a business, or
- You and/or your spouse have retirement accounts, life insurance policies, investment accounts, or pensions.
- You and/or your spouse have a trust or are the beneficiary of a trust.
Contact us at Legal Services Vermont if you think you may need more legal help with your divorce. We can give you quick advice. In some cases we can refer you for more help.
You can also contact the Vermont Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service to find a lawyer.
Remember that you can consult with a lawyer for just part of your case or hire one to represent you at just one hearing or meeting.
Follow the steps
In the next step, learn what to do before you start the divorce paperwork.