Unless you filed a stipulated divorce and waived your right to a hearing, the last step in your case is a final hearing with a family court judge. The final hearing can be either uncontested or contested.
Uncontested final hearing
An uncontested final hearing happens when you and your spouse have agreed on all the issues in the divorce case. The judge meets with you briefly to make sure that you agreed voluntarily and understand what you are agreeing to. For a case with children, the judge also needs to make sure that the agreement is in the best interests of the children.
Usually, you will get a signed final order the same day in court. If you have a remote hearing it may take longer.
Here are some things you might be asked about:
- how long you and your spouse have lived in Vermont
- where you were married
- where you are living now
- whether there is a chance you could get back together as a married couple
- how you will communicate with your spouse about issues with your children, and
- whether you think the agreement is fair, and whether you agreed voluntarily.
Contested final hearing
A contested final hearing happens when you and your spouse could not agree about one or more areas in the case. This could be about your money, property, and debts, your parenting plan, or child support—or all of these.
If you know or think there will be a contested final hearing, you should get legal help.
A contested final hearing means that you will have to answer questions from the judge and your spouse (or their lawyer). You will also get to ask your spouse questions. In the hearing, do not interrupt. Speak when the judge tells you it is your turn.
Prepare by reviewing whatever part of your case is going to be “contested.”
- If the contested final hearing will be about how your property gets divided, review your Financial Affidavits and be ready to answer questions about why you should get certain property. Property division is “equitable,” not necessarily “equal.” This means it is what the judge thinks is fair to both of you. The Vermont Judiciary website explains the rules the judge will use to divide your property in a contested hearing.
- If the hearing will be about parenting issues, be ready to explain why it is in the best interests of the child for you to get custody. Our website explains the rules the judge will use to decide about custody and visitation of your children in a contested hearing.
You will get the final divorce order either at the end of the hearing or by mail. If you filed online, you will get the order by email.
After the final hearing
You have 30 days to decide if you want to appeal any part of your divorce case to the Vermont Supreme Court. You may also be able to ask the court to “reopen” or “reconsider” within 10 days of getting the final order.
Your divorce becomes final 90 days after the final order unless you agreed to “waive” (give up) the “nisi period.”
Contact the court if you are concerned that any part of the divorce order is not being followed and you can't work it out with your ex-spouse. For example, maybe they were supposed to take over paying for a mortgage but they haven't done it. Or maybe they aren't following the visitation schedule you agreed to. You may need to file a motion with the court to get your ex-spouse to follow the order. These are called “motions to enforce.”
You can also file a “motion to modify” if you think something in the final order needs to change to reflect a change in your lives. You can do this for parenting and child support issues, but generally not for issues about property and money.
Getting legal help
Contact us at Legal Services Vermont if you need quick advice or a referral for:
- a divorce with children
- a divorce that involves abuse or domestic violence
Otherwise, we cannot help you with divorce issues. To hire a lawyer, contact the Vermont Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service online or by phone at 1-800-639-7036.
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.