Divorce can be one of the most challenging experiences in a person's life—for everyone involved. However, some divorces are far more amicable, faster, and easier than others. If you and your spouse can cooperate and work out an agreement on all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, you may save money and time by filing for an uncontested divorce in Vermont. This article explains what that means and how the process works.
In an uncontested divorce (which Vermont calls a "stipulated" divorce), you and your spouse reach a marital settlement agreement that covers all of the important issues in your divorce, including:
If you can agree on all of these issues before you file for divorce in Vermont, you can save money on the filing fee (more on that below). You may also save several steps in the traditional contested divorce process. Finally, many couples find that they can go through the stipulated divorce process without hiring lawyers, either all on their own or with an online divorce service.
However, it's often a good idea to at least have a lawyer review your settlement agreement to ensure that it's fair, protects your legal rights, and includes everything that needs to be covered. You might also want to speak with an attorney if you have a complicated situation (such as owning a business, retirement accounts that need to be divided, or other complex assets).
Even if you aren't able to resolve all of your differences before you file the initial paperwork, you might still reach a stipulation (legalese for an agreement) before going to trial in your divorce—typically with the help of lawyers and/or mediation. But you won't be able to take advantage of Vermont's reduced filing fee for an initial stipulated divorce, and you'll likely face other additional expenses along the way. (Learn more about how disputes increase the cost of divorce.)
Before you may start any divorce proceeding in Vermont, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least six months. In addition, one of you must have lived there for a full year before you can have a final divorce hearing—or before a judge reviews your paperwork if you've waived the hearing (more on that below). In rare instances where both spouses are living in a place where the government won't recognize their marriage (such as a foreign country that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage), they may be able to get an uncontested, nonresident divorce in Vermont as long as they were married in the state.
Also, in an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must have lived apart for at least six months before the final divorce hearing, because that's the requirement for Vermont's no-fault "ground" (legal reason) for divorce. (The state also allows divorce based on a spouse's misconduct or permanent incapacity, but those grounds would not be appropriate in a stipulated divorce.)
If you and your spouse lived apart for a period of time before you filed for divorce, that time may count toward the six-month separation requirement. But if you have children, the judge will typically not schedule a final hearing until six months after you've filed, to ensure that you've been able to follow an effective parenting agreement during that time.
Some Vermont courts have found that spouses don't necessarily have to live in separate homes to be considered living apart—for instance, if they sleep in different bedrooms and keep separate households. But you should speak with a lawyer if that's your situation, because a judge will have to look at the specific circumstances before deciding whether you qualify. (Vt. Stat. tit. 15, §§ 551, 592 (2021).)
If you plan to go through the divorce process without an attorney, you'll need to gather and complete all of the required forms.
The paperwork for a stipulated divorce will include forms signed by the spouse who starts the divorce process (the "plaintiff"), as well as forms signed by the other spouse (known as the "defendant" in Vermont, even in uncontested divorces). It doesn't matter which of you starts the process.
The required forms include:
If you and your spouse have minor children, you'll need to complete additional forms, including:
Couples without minor children will not have to file financial affidavits with the court, but they must certify that they have exchanged all financial information about their income, assets, and liabilities.
You may also include a stipulation and motion to waive the final hearing (signed by both spouses), which would allow a judge to finalize your divorce after reviewing your paperwork (more on that below).
You can download the forms for stipulated divorce from the Vermont Judiciary's website, which also provides an explanation of the process and a tool for completing the forms online. If you don't have access to a printer, you may instead get hard copies of the forms from your local court clerk's office and fill them out by hand.
The other option is to use an online divorce service, which will provide you with completed forms after you've answered a series of questions. Some of these services will mail hard copies of the completed forms to you. They may also guarantee that your state's court will accept the completed forms.
Once you've completed and signed all of the forms, you must file them with the court in the Vermont county where you or your spouse lives. (You can search for the family division court location information here.) Vermont courts are phasing in a process for accepting electronic filing, so you may check to see if that's available.
You will need to pay a filing fee. When you've included your stipulation with your initial paperwork, the fee is currently $90 (compared to a $295 fee to file a regular divorce). There's also an additional small fee for electronic filing, when that's available. You can apply to have the court fees waived if you can't afford to pay. The application form is on the court's website, or you can ask for it from the court clerk. (Vt. Stat. tit. 15, § 593; Vt. Stat. tit. 32, § 1431(b)(3) (2021)).
Once you've filed all the required forms and met the time requirements for living in Vermont and being separated from your spouse (discussed above), the judge will review your paperwork and agreements. If you've filed the form to waive a final hearing, you won't have to appear for this review—unless the judge decides that your agreement isn't "fair and equitable" and orders a hearing to question you about it.
The judge will sign your final divorce order after finding that you've met all the requirements and that your agreement is fair. However, your Vermont divorce still won't be final for 90 days after that, unless both spouses have asked to have all or part of that waiting period (known as the "nisi" period in Vermont) waived in their stipulation form, and the judge approves the request. (Vt. Stat. tit. 15, § 554; Vt. Court Rules, Rules for Family Proceedings, rule 4.0 (2021).)