Remarriage and Child Support in Vermont

Learn how remarriage affects child support in Vermont.

By , Retired Judge

If you're a divorced parent in Vermont, and you have minor children, it's very likely that you have a child support order in place. But now you're thinking about remarrying, and you wonder if that will have an effect on support obligations. This article addresses the issue of remarriage and child support in Vermont.

The Basics of Child Support in Vermont

In Vermont, the courts apply guidelines to determine child support awards. Both parents have an obligation to support their children, and their combined income is the main factor for calculating the total support amount. Once the court obtains this figure, it divides it proportionately between the parents, based on their individual incomes. Some income sources the court takes into account are:

  • salaries, wages, and commissions
  • dividends, interest, and capital gains
  • pensions and annuities
  • spousal support
  • Social Security benefits, workers' compensation, unemployment insurance benefits, and disability insurance benefits, and
  • income from self-employment, a partnership, or a closely held business.

In addition to income, the court also considers work or education-related child care costs, and extraordinary medical and educational expenses, when determining child support.

To find more child support information, you can go to the Vermont Department for Children and Families website.

The Court Can Impute Income in Certain Cases

If the court finds that a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, it can attribute or "impute" income to that parent when calculating child support. There are circumstances in which the court won't do this, however. For example, if it finds that the parent is physically or mentally incapacitated, or if the parent is attending vocational or career technical education, the court normally won't impute income.

Support Awards Under the Guidelines Are Presumed Correct

There's a presumption that a support award is correct if it was calculated using the guidelines. However, if the court determines that applying the guidelines in a particular case is unfair to the child or either of the parents, it can deviate from them. The court will consider certain factors, including, among others:

  • the child's financial resources
  • the custodial parent's financial resources (parent with whom the child primarily resides)
  • the child's physical and emotional condition
  • the noncustodial parent's financial resources and needs
  • extraordinary travel-related expenses related to visitation, and
  • any other factors the court finds relevant.

The Court Has Authority to Change a Child Support Order

Child support orders aren't set in stone, and courts can modify them if a parent requests it. However, the parent seeking the change has to prove to the court that there's been a real, substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances. Some situations are automatically considered a change of circumstances, such as receiving unemployment (if this wasn't contemplated when the support order was originally issued). Incarceration also constitutes a sufficient change, assuming it didn't result from failure to pay child support.

Does remarriage fall into the category of a "change of circumstances" that would justify a child support modification?

Remarriage May Give Rise to a Sufficient Change of Circumstances

Normally, the fact that you've remarried isn't enough to justify modifying a child support order. That's because your new spouse isn't ordinarily obligated to support the children from your prior relationship. But Vermont case law holds that a court can consider remarriage in a child support modification application. This isn't due to remarriage in and of itself, but rather certain potential aspects of remarriage that the courts believe are relevant.

A New Child May Be a Reason to Modify a Support Order

Let's say you're paying child support from a previous marriage. But now you've remarried and have a new child. In the past, your children from that prior relationship would have priority over your new addition to the family. But Vermont is among those states that now acknowledge that all a parent's children are entitled to benefit from that parent's income. So Vermont law provides that, in a support modification application, the existing support order may need an adjustment to account for your additional dependents. Thus, having a new child is clearly a legitimate argument to make when requesting a child support change.

Additional information can be found in the Vermont laws Title 15 § 656a.

A New Spouse Can Impact Child Support

As seen above, your new spouse doesn't usually have a duty to support your children from a prior relationship. So how can he or she be relevant to child support issues? Actually, there are at least two ways a new spouse might impact child support.

First, in Vermont, a court can order a stepparent (new spouse) to support a stepchild if the stepchild resides in the same household and if the natural or adoptive parents' financial resources aren't enough to provide the child with a "reasonable subsistence." This doesn't replace the natural or adoptive parents' support obligation, but supplements it.

Second, in a Vermont case in which the court reviewed a modification request, it referred to a new spouse's income in determining the parent's ability to pay child support. The reason for this wasn't spelled out in the decision. But since many states now relate a new spouse's income to decreasing a parent's expenses, this could possibly be why the court mentioned it. A practical example is where a new spouse contributes to the household costs, such as mortgage, rent, utilities, or groceries. These contributions lower the amount the parent has to spend on these items. In effect, this gives the parent more income available for child support.

The issue of remarriage and child support in Vermont is complex, and this article is only meant as an overview of the topic. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult with a qualified family lawyer as to any questions you may have.

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