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What are Vermont Family Court Records?
Vermont family court records are documents created and maintained in relation to family law cases tried in family courts in the State of Vermont. These records describe the events in court cases, the individuals concerned, and the resolutions of those cases. Vermont family court records include dockets, final judgements, motions, orders, summons, and other publicly available documents used in family law cases in the state.
What is a Family Court in Vermont State?
The Unified Court System of Vermont State establishes a Vermont family court as the family division of the superior court. This court handles family law cases. There are 14 family courts in the State of Vermont with one in each county. Vermont family courts do not hold jury trials. Rather they have presiding judges and magistrates making decisions over all family law cases. The types of cases heard in Vermont family courts involve:
- Spousal Support
- Child Custody and Support
- Domestic Abuse
- Juvenile matters
How to Serve Family Court Papers in Vermont State
When initiating a legal action in a Vermont Family Court, the plaintiff must serve initial court papers to the other party named in the suit. In Family law cases, Vermont allows the party initiating legal actions to serve court papers by hand, mail, and publication.
Family courts in Vermont allow these two methods of service by hand:
Acknowledgement of Service: This involves the plaintiff serving a court summon or complaint directly to the defendant. The defendant must first agree to this method of service. The plaintiff must also take along an Acknowledgement of Service form and ensure that the defendant signs it to show that they indeed received the served court paper.
Personal Service: If the defendant refuses to be served directly by the plaintiff, the plaintiff may arrange for the county sheriff or constable to serve the defendant on their behalf. The plaintiff will pay the law enforcement officer for this service. The cost of service depends on how far away the defendant is and how many attempts the sheriff made to successfully serve the papers. Having successfully served the papers, the sheriff will give the plaintiff a completed Return of Service form which must then be filed with the family court.
Vermont family courts also approve two types of Service by Mail. The party bringing the legal action in a lawsuit can serve court papers by Certified Mail or First Class Mail.
Certified Mail: If the party bringing a legal action chooses to serve the other party via certified mail, they will need to request that the post office gives them a green card to show that the defendant has received the papers. If the post office does give them the green card, the individual must then take the green card along with a Certificate of Service to court. The Certificate of Service must list all documents sent to the defendant.
First Class Mail with Acknowledgement: Family court papers can also be sent via first class mail. The party sending the papers will need to include a Notice of Action and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons. This is a document that shows the defendant willingly received the court summons. The plaintiff must ensure that all the documents included in the package are clearly listed on this form. The defendant will need to sign this form and send it back to the court within 21 days of the initial delivery date.
Service by Publication: Service by Publication is a last resort and only allowed when it is not possible to serve court papers by hand or mail. The plaintiff must request and receive permission from the court before serving court notice by publication in a newspaper. This newspaper service must be located in the area in which the plaintiff lives, must be published within 21 days of the court’s approval, and must run for two weeks successively. Once completed, the plaintiff must then return a copy of the served notice to the court, along with an affidavit detailing where and when it was run.
Who Can Serve Family Court Papers in Vermont State?
The State of Vermont has very few legal restrictions for serving family court papers. Any individual who is over the age of 18 and has no direct connection to the case at hand is legally permitted to serve family court papers.
What Is Contempt of Court in Family Law in Vermont State?
In the State of Vermont, the court views contempt as any act of disobedience towards its orders, or any action that disrespects the court’s jurisdiction. According to the statutes of Vermont, any act of disobedience towards lawful orders of the Family Division (whether they be to fulfill financial or nonfinancial obligations) may subject the disobeying party to civil contempt proceedings.
The individual charged with contempt of family court will be served with a notice ordering them to appear at a hearing to explain why the court should not hold them in contempt. Failure to appear in court may result in an arrest warrant issued to force the person to appear in court.
The default assumption of the court is that involved parties are fully capable of fulfilling all court-ordered obligations. In order to successfully defend themselves against contempt charges, the defendant must demonstrate to the court that they were unable to fulfill their obligations due to situations beyond their control.
However, the judge may find the individual in contempt of court if all of the following were proven true:
- The individual had prior knowledge of his or her court-ordered obligations.
- The individual failed to comply with court-ordered obligations.
- The individual was capable of complying with the court-ordered obligation but willfully refused to do so.
If found in contempt, the court shall determine what sanctions are appropriate in order to ensure compliance with its orders. These sanctions may include:
- An order to search for work (to enable compliance with financial obligations) and to provide feedback from the search to the court.
- Mandatory enrollment in an employment services program so as to secure employment that enables compliance with financial obligations.
- Appearance before a reparative board.
- Imprisonment of the individual unless they comply with the conditions of the court.
Are Family Court Records Public in Vermont State?
Yes, family court records are public in Vermont. However, juvenile cases, as well as cases relating to adoption as well as termination and relinquishment of parental rights, are automatically closed to the public.
Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
Are Vermont State Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?
In the state of Vermont, Divorce records are public records by default, not sealed.
However, the parties involved in a divorce can put in a special application to the courts, requesting that their divorce court records be sealed. Some possible reasons for requests of this nature include:
- The desire to withhold the identity of minor children that may be mentioned in the records.
- The desire to protect the victim if the marriage ended on account of domestic violence.
- The desire to safeguard any exclusive business information.
- The desire to safeguard sensitive information such as bank account and social security numbers.
These reasons, however, must be tangible. Otherwise, the judge is unlikely to grant an application to seal a divorce court record.
Family Court Records can include marriage records and divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.
How Do I Find Divorce Records in Vermont State?
Divorce records can either be vital records or court records. A vital divorce record simply records the divorce as an event that has happened within the state of Vermont. A divorce court record, on the other hand, is a more complete recording of the court proceedings as they related to the divorce in question.
Divorce court records can be obtained by visiting the family division of the superior court in which the divorce proceedings were carried out and making a request for access to court records. Vital records, however, are maintained as vital records by the Vermont Department of Health. Interested parties can request these records by visiting the Department of Health or any of the Town offices in person, via mail, or online.
Parties who wish to personally seek out divorce records in Vermont can visit the County Vital Records Offices in the Department of Health of any of the Town offices. Town records can be viewed by members of the public, but a viewing fee of $2 per hour may be charged.
To receive divorce records by mail, requesting parties should:
- Fill out the appropriate request form.
- Include the appropriate fee of $9.50 per certified copy.
- Mail the request form to:
Vermont Department of Health
P.O. Box 70
Burlington, VT 05402-0070
Divorce records can also be requested using the Vermont Vital Records Ordering Service. The cost per certified copy is $12 and requesters can expect to receive their orders within 5 - 7 business days.
Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.
How to Access Family Court Records in Vermont State
The state of Vermont does not permit access to family court records on the internet. To access family court records, interested parties will need to visit the family division of the superior court in the county where the case was heard. A request for access to court records must be filled out and submitted to the court’s clerk.