Adultery in Vermont: Does Cheating Affect Alimony?

If you’re getting divorced in Vermont, and your spouse has cheated on you, will it have an impact on any alimony award?

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

If you're divorcing an unfaithful spouse, you may wonder if your soon-to-be-ex's adultery guarantees that you'll get alimony. In some states, marital misconduct impacts an alimony award. Every state's alimony laws are different; here's a breakdown of how Vermont's alimony laws address adultery.

An Overview of Alimony in Vermont

Alimony is a court order requiring one spouse (the "paying spouse") to pay money to the other spouse (the "supported spouse") as part of a divorce. In Vermont, alimony is called "maintenance." Alimony isn't awarded in every divorce. Alimony awards are generally meant to equalize the post-divorce standard of living between former spouses.

How Vermont Courts Determine Alimony

A Vermont judge will award maintenance when the supported spouse:

  • lacks sufficient income or property to provide for reasonable needs, or
  • can't self-support (through appropriate employment) at the standard of living established during the marriage or is a custodian of a child of the parties.

(Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 752 (2021).)

Once a judge decides that a maintenance award is appropriate, the judge will consider the following factors to determine the amount of the award:

  • the supported spouse's financial resources, including property awards
  • time needed for the supported spouse to get an education or job skills
  • the couple's standard of living during the marriage
  • length of the marriage
  • each spouse's age, physical, and mental health
  • the paying spouse's ability to pay alimony, and
  • inflation related to the cost of living.

(Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 752 (2021).)

Alimony is usually paid in monthly installments, but it can also be paid all at once, or can be in the form of a transfer of property from one spouse to the other. The court can modify alimony if the spouses' financial circumstances change while alimony is still being paid.

Does Adultery Affect Alimony in Vermont?

One spouse's extramarital affair is irrelevant to a judge determining alimony. In Vermont, the purpose of alimony is to reduce the financial impact of divorce, not to award or punish a spouse for behavior during the marriage. Even in cases where one spouse's behavior has been detrimental to the other spouse's ability to earn income, the court probably won't consider that misconduct when deciding how to divide property or whether to award alimony. One exception to this rule is if the unfaithful spouse spent thousands of dollars on a lover. In this case, a judge may award the innocent spouse more property in the divorce to compensate for the adulterous spouse's spending.

Does Committing Adultery in Vermont Affect Whether the Court Will Grant a Divorce?

Vermont, like every other state, allows no-fault divorces. The spouse filing for a no-fault divorce has to claim only that the couple has "irreconcilable differences." This simply means that the spouses can't get along.

Vermont also recognizes fault-based divorces. Fault-based divorces are usually more time consuming and expensive that no-fault divorces because they require one spouse to prove that the other spouse's behavior is the reason for the divorce. Even so, some spouses seek a fault-based divorce in hopes of gaining an advantage when it comes to custody or support decisions.

Under Vermont divorce laws, a fault-based divorce will be granted for the following reasons:

  • adultery
  • imprisonment for at least 3 years
  • intolerable severity (behavior that is a present and imminent danger to the health of the other spouse)
  • willful desertion
  • neglect
  • permanent mental or physical incapacity, or
  • living separately for at least 6 months.

(Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 15, § 551 (2021).)

Does Adultery Impact Child Custody or Support Awards?

A judge will evaluate a child's best interests—not a parent's fidelity—when deciding custody. In other words, so long as a parent's affair doesn't impact a child's well-being, it's irrelevant to a Vermont custody decision. The same rules apply to child support. Child support is based largely upon each parent's income and time with the child. In Vermont, evidence of an affair alone doesn't prove that one spouse is a better parent than the other.