Child Support in Vermont

Learn how child support is calculated in Vermont, when a judge may depart from the guidelines, how to enforce or change an existing child support order, and more.

By , Retired Judge
Considering Divorce? We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
First Name is required
First Name is required

Like all other states, Vermont has child support guidelines meant to provide consistency when judges or parents are figuring out how much child support is appropriate. The guidelines apply when parents first divorce or split up, as well as when they're seeking to change their current support order.

Many different elements go into calculating child support, and the process can seem overwhelming. The state does provide some online tools, but it helps to have a basic understanding of how Vermont's guidelines work and what you'll need to begin.

Who Pays Child Support in Vermont?

Both parents are legally required to support their children financially. But the question of which parent will pay child support will depend on their custody arrangements.

When the children live with one parent (the custodial parent), both parents' total support obligation is divided between them in proportion to their respective share of their combined incomes.The noncustodial parent pays their share of the support obligation to the custodial parent. The guidelines assume the custodial parent's share goes directly to pay for the child's daily expenses.

The rules are somewhat different when the parents have split custody—meaning that each of them has physical custody of at least one of their children—or shared custody (more on that below). In these cases, special calculations will determine who pays support.

(Vt. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 656, 657 (2024).)

The Steps for Calculating Child Support in Vermont

Vermont's guidelines use what's known as the "income shares model" to calculate child support. We'll get into the details below, but the basic steps are as follows:

  • Based on the parents' combined available incomes for child support and the number of children they have, the guidelines set a basic, total child support obligation.
  • Then, each parent's share of the total support obligation is based on their proportional share of their combined available income. For instance, if Parent A's available monthly income is $3,600 and Parent B's is $2,400, Parent A's share of their combined income is 60%—which would also be that parent's share of the total child support obligation.
  • Additional adjustments account for certain child-related expenses, shared custody, and a "self-support reserve."

Some of these steps will be different when the parent have shared custody—meaning that the kids stay with each parent overnight for at least 25% of the year. In these cases, the guidelines include special adjustments to reflect the extra costs of maintaining two separate households for the children. These calculations will determine each parent's support obligation, as well as which of them will make support payments.

What Counts as "Available Income" for Child Support?

To figure out how much of each parent's income is available for child support, you need to start with gross income and then deduct certain amounts (which aren't the same as the deductions allowed on income tax returns).

Gross income includes income from almost any source, including:

  • wages and other employee compensation
  • self-employment or business income (minus ordinary and necessary expenses)
  • interest, dividends, capital gains, rentals, and other investment returns
  • workers' compensation, unemployment, disability, and veterans' benefits
  • payments from pensions or retirement programs, including Social Security, and
  • payments received for alimony (known as spousal support or "maintenance" in Vermont).

However, gross income does not include means-tested public assistance, such as SSI, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and SNAP (food stamps).

To arrive at available income, subtract the following from gross income:

  • state and federal income taxes
  • Social Security and Medicare taxes
  • the actual cost of providing adequate health insurance coverage (or a cash contribution for medical coverage) for the children covered by this support order
  • spousal support payments, and
  • child support payments for children from previous relationships, including any court-ordered periodic payments for past-due support.

    Vermont's guidelines have special rules for the deductions, filing status, and exemptions that you can use when deducting income taxes. You can find those rules, along with all the definitions used in the guidelines, at Vt. Stat. tit. 15, § 653 (2024).

    When Vermont Judges May Impute Income or Require Work Activities

    Unfortunately, some parents try to get out of paying their child support obligation by purposefully lowering or hiding their income. But Vermont has ways to deal with that. If a judge finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the judge will calculate child support using the parent's "potential" income, unless:

    • the parent is physically or mentally incapacitated
    • the parent is attending a vocational or career technical education or job training program, or
    • it's in the child's best interests for that parent to be unemployed or underemployed.

    The guidelines don't explain exactly when judges should impute income to stay-at-home parents who aren't working outside the home. But the Vermont Supreme Court has laid out some circumstances judges should consider, including the children's age and health, the availability and cost of child care compared to what the parent could earn, and other resources available to that parent.

    When judges are deciding how much potential income to impute to a parent, they usually look at factors such as:

    • the parent's recent employment history, age, and health
    • the parent's occupational, educational, and professional qualifications, and
    • existing job opportunities and associated earning levels in the community.

    Under Vermont law, judges may also require some parents to engage in certain activities meant to help them pay child support, including education, job and skills training, job search programs, and work experience.

    (Vt. Stat., tit. 15, § 653(5)(A)(iii), 658(d) (2024); Tetreault v. Coon, 708 A.2d 571 (Vt. 1998).)

    Adjustments to Child Support

    Vermont's guidelines allow various adjustments to the basic child support obligation, including:

    • the actual, reasonable cost of child care that's required because of a parent's job or employment-related education
    • the child's extraordinary medical and education expenses, including expenses related to a child's special needs
    • a "self-support reserve" (which changes every year) to ensure that low-income parents will have enough money after paying child support to maintain at least a minimum standard of living
    • a self-employment adjustment, and
    • the cost of supporting additional children (such as children from a new marriage, as discussed below).

    (15 Vt. Stat. §§ 653, 656, 656a (2024).)

      What Is Vermont's Child Support Maintenance Supplement?

      Vermont's guidelines have an unusual feature: the child support maintenance supplement, which is an additional payment over and above the regular child support obligation. If a custodial parent requests this supplement, the judge will decide whether the disparity between the parents' financial circumstances will result (or has already resulted) in a lower standard of living for the children than they would have if they lived with the noncustodial parent. If so, the judge may order the noncustodial parent to pay the supplement in order to correct that disparity.

      A judge who has awarded a child support maintenance supplement will take that into account when making a decision about spousal maintenance.

      (Vt. Stat. § 661 (2024).)

      When Child Support May Differ From the Guidelines Amount

      If the amount of child support that's calculated under the guidelines would be unfair to the child or the parents in a particular case, Vermont judges may adjust the support amount. Before making that decision, however, a judge must consider all of the relevant circumstances, including:

      • the financial resources of the children and both parents, as well as the noncustodial parent's needs
      • the standard of living the kids would have enjoyed if the parents hadn't split up
      • the children's physical and emotional condition, as well as their educational needs
      • extraordinary travel and other expenses related to visitation
      • either parent's educational costs aimed at increasing future earnings, and
      • inflation.

      (Vt. Stat., tit. 15, § 659(a) (2024).)

      Can Parents Agree on a Child Support Figure?

      You and your co-parent may choose to agree on an amount of child support. But you'll have to submit your agreement to the court for review and approval. If you've agreed on an amount of support that's lower than the guideline amount, the judge will look closely to see if a departure from the guidelines is warranted under the circumstances (as discussed above).

      When Does Child Support End in Vermont?

      In Vermont, judges may order support to continue until the child is no longer a minor (when the child turns 18 or is legally emancipated) or finishes high school, whichever happens later.

      You and your co-parent may agree to extend child support beyond the legal cut-off, such as to help a child through college. To prevent problems down the road, submit your signed, written agreement to the court so that it can be made part of an official order.

      Vt. Stat. tit. 12, § 7151; tit. 15, §§ 658(c), 659(b) (2024).)

      How to Apply for Child Support

      If you're getting divorced (or legally separated), child support will be handled as part of that process. You can request child support when you file your divorce papers.

      Otherwise, you can request request child support through the Vermont Office of Child Support (OCS). The office can also help establish your child's paternity if necessary.

      Collecting and Enforcing Child Support in Vermont

      The OCS also helps with collecting and enforcing child support.

      If the obligor parent has a job, income withholding is required unless both parents ask to handle support payments on their own and the court waives the income withholding requirement. With income withholding, the parent's employer will deduct the support amount from the parent's paychecks and forward the money to the OCS, which will then send it on to the recipient parent. Self-employed parents and others who don't have income withholding have options for paying child support, including by credit or debit card.

      If you're having trouble collecting child support, you can request enforcement services from the OCS. The agency has a number of tools to collect overdue support, including intercepting tax refunds and placing a lien on property, so that the delinquent parent can't sell or borrow money on the property until the support debt is paid off.

      You also have the option of filing a motion directly with the court to enforce the support order. This usually means asking to have the delinquent parent found in contempt of court, which can result in fines and even jail time.

      If you're the noncustodial parent, you should know that you aren't allowed to stop paying child support because the other parent is withholding visitation.

      How to Request a Change in Child Support in Vermont

      You may request a change in your existing child support order in Vermont. You'll usually have to prove that you've experienced a "real, substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances" since your existing order was issued or previously modified. But the judge may waive that requirement if your order hasn't been modified in at least three years.

      The law in Vermont lists the following examples of substantial, unanticipated changed circumstances:

      • a difference of at least 10% between the amount of support in the existing order and the amount calculated under the guidelines now
      • the fact that a parent is now receiving workers' compensation, disability benefits, means-tested public assistance benefits, or unemployment compensation (unless the unemployment was considered when the existing order was issued or last modified), and
      • a parent's incarceration for more than 90 days, unless incarceration is for failure to pay child support.

      Of course, other changed circumstances could qualify, such as when there's been a significant change in the amount of time a child spends with a parent.

      Also, if a parent is seeking a modification of a child support maintenance supplement, the guidelines presume that there's been a qualifying change of circumstances if either parent's gross income has changed by more than 15%, or the proportion of their income varies more than 15% from when the existing order was issued.

      In order to request a child support modification, you'll have to file a motion with the court, along with an affidavit with new support calculations based on the guidelines and your current circumstances. If those calculations demonstrate that you're entitled to a modification, the court will issue a modified order unless the other parent requests a hearing on time (within 15 days after receiving a copy of your request). Whenever there's been a request for a hearing, a judge will have to decide whether to grant a modification.

      Any modification of support will apply only to support payments that were due after the motion was filed. So if you've experienced qualifying changes that have made it difficult to pay support, you should act as quickly as possible.

      (Vt. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 660, 661 (2024).)

      Does Remarriage Affect Child Support in Vermont?

      A parent's remarriage, by itself, won't affect the amount of child support that parent is paying or receiving. But some circumstances related to a remarriage might warrant a support modification in Vermont.

      Vermont's guidelines allow an adjustment in the child support calculation as part of a modification request when a parent is responsible for supporting additional children who aren't covered by the support order—but not if the adjustment would mean a lower support order.

      This adjustment applies when the parent has new children with a new spouse (both natural and adopted). It also may apply to stepchildren, but only when the parent has a legal duty to support them. Under Vermont law, a judge may order a stepparent to provide support for a stepchild who lives in the same household and whose parents don't have enough financial resources to give the child a "reasonable subsistence." (Vt. Stat., tit. 15, §§ 296, 656a (2024).)

      In Vermont's guideline calculations, a parent's income doesn't include a new spouse's income. That said, there might be some situations when a new spouse's earnings might play a role in a judges' decision to modify child support. For instance, if the existing order is for less than the guideline amount, a judge might consider the fact that the noncustodial parent now has more financial resources to pay support because a new spouse is making significant contributions to covering living expenses.

      Resources and Help With Child Support

      Vermont offers a number of child support resources, including links to the state's child support calculator, worksheets, instructions, and the current tables of support obligations. The calculator will give you an estimate of your child support obligation, but it's important to remember that the judge may order a different amount in your case (under the rules discussed above).

      You can also find forms for establishing, modifying, and enforcing child support on the Vermont Judiciary website.

      Despite all of these resources—and the help available through the OCS—there are a number of situations when you may need a lawyer's help. This is especially true if you're seeking (or opposing) an amount of child support that's different than the guideline calculation, or a modification of an existing support order.

      Considering Divorce?
      Talk to a Divorce attorney.
      We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.
      There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
      Full Name is required
      Email is required
      Please enter a valid Email
      Phone Number is required
      Please enter a valid Phone Number
      Zip Code is required
      Please add a valid Zip Code
      Please enter a valid Case Description
      Description is required

      How It Works

      1. Briefly tell us about your case
      2. Provide your contact information
      3. Choose attorneys to contact you