Grounds for Divorce in Vermont

Learn about the grounds for divorce in Vermont.

By , Retired Judge

Categories of Divorce in Vermont

Like many other states, Vermont's grounds for divorce fall into two primary categories: fault-based and no-fault. Obviously, the circumstances of your marriage will determine which grounds are available to you. But if there's a choice of more than one, you have an important decision to make.

Fault-based Grounds for Divorce in Vermont

For the most part, fault-based grounds relate to a spouse's misconduct.

In Vermont, the fault-based grounds are:

  • adultery
  • a spouse's sentence of imprisonment for three years or more (in-state or out-of-state), and the spouse is actually confined to prison when the other spouse files for divorce
  • intolerable severity in either spouse
  • willful desertion or when either spouse has been absent for seven years and not heard of during that time, and
  • persistent refusal or neglect on the part of one spouse to provide suitable support for the other spouse, without cause, if that spouse has the ability to provide support.

The ground of intolerable severity is much like the ground of extreme cruelty seen in other states. In order for it to be a viable basis for divorce, the conduct of the abusive spouse must have been such that, directly or indirectly, it either threatened or caused injury to the other spouse's physical or mental health.

Regarding desertion, the spouse who abandoned the marriage must have left without a good reason. So if someone leaves the marital home to escape domestic violence, for example, a court would likely not determine that the spouse was guilty of desertion.

You can also file for divorce based on a spouse's permanent incapacity due to a mental condition or psychiatric disability. For incapacity to be a valid ground for divorce, the alleged incapacitated spouse must have been confined in a psychiatric hospital for at least five years before the divorce is filed. Additionally, it must appear to the judge that the mental condition or psychiatric disability is permanent.

No-fault Grounds in Vermont

With no-fault grounds, neither spouse accuses the other of wrongdoing. Vermont provides one no-fault ground for divorce: the spouses living apart for at least six consecutive months. The judge must also determine that there's no reasonable probability of the couple resuming marital relations.

It's interesting to note that Vermont case law has held that living apart doesn't necessarily mean that one of the spouses has physically left the marital home. Rather, the court can look at other circumstances in determining the nature of the relationship and when the separation began.

Which Is More Advantageous—Fault-Based or No-Fault?

The general trend in divorce today is for spouses to file using no-fault grounds. There are a few reasons for this. For one, you avoid the added stress of reliving some of the most painful moments of your marriage. It's difficult enough resolving the other possible issues in your divorce, such as custody and parenting time (visitation), spousal support (alimony), and dividing your property. Fighting over fault only raises the tension level for everyone, including children.

Also, you'll avoid airing your dirty laundry in public. Remember, court proceedings are often open to anyone who wants to attend. Another thing to be aware of is that if you opt to base your divorce on fault, you may have to bring in witnesses to support your claim. This can be an inconvenience, not to mention that it can put a strain on friendships.

Something else to consider is that the time you spend pursuing and proving your fault-based ground is undoubtedly going to result in your paying more in attorneys' fees. Plus, you run the risk of alienating the judge if it appears you're using the divorce as a weapon to punish your spouse.

In every state, the court's goal is to treat spouses fairly and equitably. For that reason, judges don't normally take a spouse's misconduct into consideration when ruling on issues like alimony and property distribution. That's evident in the Vermont statutes referencing those two topics. They don't list a spouse's behavior during the marriage among the criteria a judge should consider in awarding alimony and dividing marital property. In light of this, the odds are there's nothing to gain financially by basing your divorce on fault.

A Word About Residency Requirements in Vermont

You can file for divorce in Vermont as long as one of the spouses has resided in the state for six months. However, the court won't issue the final divorce decree until one of the spouses has been a resident for a year. In short, you could meet the guidelines for starting the divorce, but you might end up waiting for the court to finalize it.

Also, if you want to base the divorce on a spouse's incapacity, you must reside in the state for the two year period immediately prior to filing the divorce complaint.

Divorce can be quite a complicated process. If you have questions, you should speak with a family law attorney in your area.

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