Vermont Child Support Laws

Vermont child support laws say that it is state policy that, quote, “children of separated parents must get as much financial support as they would if the parents never split”.

Traditionally your support obligation ends when the child turns 18.  However, between now and then, your financial life may change in plenty of ways.  So as a parent, or as the one providing support, it is vital to know where your money goes and for what purpose.  Why do I say this?

Title 15 Section 650, reads, quote, “the legislature finds and declares as public policy that after parents have separated or dissolved their civil marriage.  It is in the best interests of their minor child to have the opportunity for maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents unless direct physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child or a parent is likely to result from such contact.  The legislature further finds and declares as public policy that parents have the responsibility to provide child support, and that child support orders should reflect the true cost of raising children and approximate insofar as possible the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the family remained intact”.

That is a lot of words to digest, but I can sum that statute into one sentence.  You must pay child support in Vermont whether married or unmarried.

 But what if you lose your job? or what if the paying parent refuses to pay?

That is where we begin our discussion.  Below is everything parents in Vermont must know about child support.

How to apply for child support in Vermont

The Vermont Department for Children and Families Office of Child Support.  Provides services to guardians, custodial, and non-custodial parents in the state services including paternity establishment, medical and child support order establishment, review and modification of support orders, non-custodial parent location, and the department may help you understand your rights in child support cases.  But the OCS cannot stop or alter any provision of an existing court order, and the agency will not act as your advocate in court.  So, we advise you to work with a family court attorney in your area.

Additionally, unlike other states, Vermont offers services on two levels: full or limited services.

 limited services only include collecting and distributing services and costs $5 a month.  Whereas, full service includes all the services listed above.

To apply for support, you must download and complete the linked Fillable Form, then drop mail it to the Vermont Office of Child Support. 280 State Drive NOB 1, Waterbury, VT 05671-1060.  You may also drop your application at a regional office (regional office location).

What to remember:

  • In Vermont, child support application is free to those who apply.  And parents receiving government assistance automatically qualify for services.
  • You may also apply for child support online here. 
  • The Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence protects applicants living in fear of domestic violence. Therefore Call 1-800-228-7395, if you have received any threats or if you fear repercussions for applying.

How is paternity established in Vermont?

Vermont child support laws provide five ways to establish paternity.

One is when a child is born to a married couple, in which case the law sees the man as the father.  Two is voluntary acknowledgment which happens when both parents complete a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP) Form at the hospital after childbirth or at any child support office in the state.  Three is paternity establishment through court action, where either parent files an action at the Superior Court Family Division requiring the other parent to take a DNA test.

And four is Assisted Reproduction, in cases where a child is conceived with the help of assisted reproduction technology and the parents complete a Consent to Parentage Form Assisted Reproduction.

What to remember:

  • Paternity establishment in Vermont grants the father rights and responsibilities such as visitation and custody rights.
  • The child gains inheritance rights, financial support, medical support, and all related benefits.
  • If you are unsure of the child’s paternity, do not sign the VAP until you take a DNA test.
  • Once paternity is established, your name will be added to the child’s birth certificate.

How is child support determined in Vermont?

In Vermont, the law allows parents to agree on a child support amount.  However, the court reviews such agreements to ensure that the amount set is consistent with Vermont child support laws.

How does it work?

After negotiations, the parents may complete a Proposed Child Support Order, then file it along with a completed state’s child support worksheet used in upkeep estimation (keep reading to find the worksheet). The parents must also complete Financial Affidavits.  From here, the court may schedule a hearing or approve the agreement, in which case, the agreement becomes enforceable.

Regardless, what matters here or rather the judge’s priority is the best interests of the child, meaning, in most cases, the judge is the ultimate decider.  That raises the question:

How is child support calculated in Vermont?

Vermont Child Support Guidelines; base upkeep on the combined income(s) of both parents, meaning the judge will consider the following factors when deciding how much you should pay.

  • Who pays for the child(s) health insurance?
  • The gross incomes of both parents.
  • Cost of extraordinary medical or educational expenses.
  • Any income, including social security or unemployment benefits.
  • The nature of the custody arrangement.
  • The number of children in both households.

It is worth noting that the court will impute income if the paying parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, hence your obligation will be the same as when you are working at full capacity.  Also, Vermont child support laws allow the judge to deviate from state upkeep guidelines if the resulting amount does not serve the best interests of the child.

All these factors make child support calculation in Vermont a little convoluted.  Consequently, the Department for Children and Families provides a calculator that you may use to estimate your obligation. You may also opt to estimate child support by hand, in which case you will need the appropriate worksheet and instructions.

Download all worksheets and instructions here.

How does it all come together?

Use the calculator or relevant worksheet, then cross-reference the resulting figure with Vermont Child Support Guideline Table. See the snippet below.

Vermont child support guidelines table

Grounds for deviation in Vermont

In situations where one parent sees the decided amount as unfair, the law allows you to ask the court for a Deviation Hearing.  A deviation hearing in Vermont allows the petitioning parent to explain to the court how and why a child support order is unfair.

During such hearings, the judge will consider all factors relevant to the case, including the educational needs of the petitioning parent, the child’s educational needs, inflation, and so on.

What if the amount is already decided-and your financial circumstances change, like say, you lose your job?  What can you do?

How to modify child support in Vermont

Parents or caregivers in Vermont may petition for support order modification only when there has been a “real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances” since the court’s last child support order.  What is a real and substantial change in Vermont?

A substantial change may be anything from incarceration to joblessness, any change that would affect the current order by at least 10%, and so on.  However, voluntarily quitting your job, or jail time served for child support non-payment does not qualify as a substantial change.  Also, either parent may request an upkeep order change once every three years.

That said.

To begin the modification process in Vermont, what you must do is file a Motion for Modification along with an affidavit requesting the court to take action.

You have three options here:

  1. Contact the OCS (Office of Child Support) via this number 1-800-786-3214.
  2. Use a CourtFormPrep.
  3. Or visit in person local courts or OCS offices.

Download all the necessary modification forms and instructions here.

What happens if you do not pay child support in Vermont?

Vermont child support laws require all support orders issued after 1990 to include automatic wage withholding orders.  That means wage or salary withholding is the main avenue for child support collection in Vermont because it guarantees timely payments.  If you are self-employed, the OCS will require you to pay child support directly through the OCS registry.

Do not forget that wage withholding is a federal collection tool hence it cuts across all states.

However, not all parents rely on wages and salaries, thus the OCS has other enforcement tools that it employs whenever wage withholding fails.

  • Increase wage withholding arrears: if upkeep payments are one month past due, the OCS may notify your employer to increase withholding by as much as 25%.
  • Liens on property and valuable: the OCS may also place a lien on the non-custodial parent’s property, including his/her home.
  • Trustee process: OCS may also collect child support from the non-custodial parent’s assets held by entities, including banks or retirement account.
  • License Non-Renewal: one-month late upkeep may cost you your driver’s, professional, or business license.
  • State/federal tax refund offset: the OCS may intercept the paying parent’s state, federal, or local tax returns.
  • The OCS may also intercept the non-custodial funds, including business loans, student loans, federal contracts, and so on.

Criminal non-support and contempt of court charges

Willful failure to pay child support is a crime that might prompt the judge to hold the paying parent in contempt.  If the court holds you in contempt, you will have the opportunity to explain your failure.  Failure to provide a worthy reason may mean jail time or a fine.  Sometimes both and punishment does not stop there.  Meaning, the courts may also hold the delinquent parents’ assets in escrow or order the parent to seek employment then report back to the court.

Also, Title 15 V.S.A 202, says, quote “A married person who, without just cause, shall desert or willfully neglect or refuse to provide for the support and maintenance of his or her spouse and children, leaving them in destitute or necessitous circumstances or a parent who, without lawful excuse, shall desert or willfully neglect or refuse to provide for the support and maintenance of his or her child or an adult child possessed of sufficient pecuniary or physical ability to support his or her parents, who unreasonably neglects or refuses to provide such support when the parent is destitute, unable to support himself or herself, and resident in this State, shall be imprisoned not more than two years or fined not more than $300.00, or both. Should a fine be imposed, the court may order the same to be paid in whole or in part to the needy spouse, parent, or the guardian, custodian, or trustee of the child.  The Office of Child Support attorneys, in addition to any other duly authorized person, may prosecute cases under this section in Vermont Superior Court”.

When does child support end in Vermont?

Your support obligation in Vermont will terminate when the child reaches 18 or graduates high school (whichever comes first).  However, if you made an out-of-court support agreement, your order will terminate after you honor all the requirements in it.

That may include college or university tuition.

A child’s disability may also extend your obligation indefinitely

If you are 16 and living in a troubled home or want your freedom, you may petition local courts for emancipation, or join the US army once you come of age, or get married.  But, do not forget that emancipation requires you to have a legal source of income, live separate from your parent, and you must be able to handle your financial affairs.

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