After you serve your spouse, the case in court begins.
Everybody gets an interim domestic order and has a case manager conference. Everybody who is representing themselves takes a course. The other steps we describe below (temporary hearing or order and mediation or parent coordination) may or may not happen in your case.
Be on time for all appointments and meetings. Let the court know if you have an emergency and need to “continue” (reschedule) a hearing or meeting. If you have children, make sure someone can watch your kids while you go to your appointments with the court.
Interim domestic order
The court will send both of you an interim domestic order. This says what you must do until the divorce is final. Here are some things it usually includes:
- You and your spouse can't harass each other.
- You and your spouse must keep paying bills.
- You and your spouse can't sell off, give away, or hide money or property.
- You and your spouse can't take children out of Vermont without permission, and
- You and your spouse can't change or cancel insurance policies.
Case manager conference
The first meeting in a divorce case is the case manager conference. The case manager is not a judge. They are a court employee who is supposed to be a neutral person in your case. Their job is to speak with you and your spouse to figure out which issues you both agree on, and which issues you need a judge to decide.
The issues you will talk about are:
- custody (called “parental rights and responsibilities” in Vermont)
- visitation (called “parent-child contact” in Vermont)
- child support
- who will keep living in the marital home, and
- how you will divide up your other property, money and debts.
Come prepared with a copy of your Financial Affidavits. Also think about what kind of agreement you would like to see for your children.
Contact the court if you are a victim of domestic violence. The case manager can meet with you and your spouse separately.
Remember: Any agreement you make in the case manager conference gets reviewed by a judge and, usually, becomes a court order. For anything you can’t agree about, the court will set a hearing. Don’t agree to anything you are not comfortable with.
Everybody representing themselves in a divorce case takes a “self-represented litigants” class from the court. A local lawyer usually teaches the course. You can take this in your own county court or anywhere in the state, depending on your schedule. Find schedules and sign up on the Vermont Judiciary website. The course is free.
Everybody in a divorce with children takes a course on “Coping with Separation and Divorce.” You can take this in your own county court or anywhere in the state, depending on your schedule. Sign up on the COPE website. The fee is $79, but you can apply for a reduced fee.
Temporary orders, status conferences and hearings
Depending on what you agreed on in the case manager conference and what comes up in your lives, you may need to have one or more status conferences or hearings to create a temporary order. For example, you might need a hearing on child support if you didn’t agree on a final child support order, or if one of you loses a job.
Either of you can ask for a hearing by filing a motion with the court. There are different motion forms depending on what you are asking for. Contact the court for the best form to use.
The court may also decide on its own that it needs a hearing.
Mediation and parent coordination
You, your spouse, or the judge can ask for the case to go to mediation. A mediator is someone who will try to help the two of you agree on as many issues as you can. A mediator is not a judge. Like the case manager, they report back to the court, and they are there to try to see if you and your spouse can reach agreement about some issues.
A parent coordinator is like a mediator but focused especially on parenting issues to try to see if you can agree to a parenting plan. This process includes meeting with your children.
Mediators and parent coordinators charge a fee, but the State of Vermont may pay some or all of the fee, based on your income.
Like in the case manager conference, remember that you do not have to agree to anything you are not comfortable with.
You can also:
- Ask to be excused from mediation if you are a victim of domestic violence, and
- Ask that any agreement be treated as a draft, so that you can talk to a lawyer about it before you sign.