Welcome to Vermont Alimony Reform

Vermont Alimony Payor Stories

I lived in Vermont my whole life up until my divorce. I operated a very successful business and followed all of the rules and laws that were expected of me. I practiced fairness in the way I lived my life both in my business and at home. Little did I know that this would not matter once I entered the family court system when I filed for divorce.

After 20+ years in an unsuccessful marriage, I made the decision to end my marriage. I reached out to a respected attorney to begin the process. I should have known that I was in for trouble when my attorney told me that I should try and settle the alimony portion of my divorce settlement before I went to court. Her comment to me was that the family court system in Vermont was like the "Wild West". I met with my ex-spouse a couple of times to try and work out an amicable settlement but she was unrealistic in her demands of an alimony amount. The result was that I had to go to family court to try and settle our differences.

My first divorce trial lasted four days. The only issue to be resolved was the amount of the alimony award to my ex-spouse. Between the time we were legally separated and the time of the trial, my business which had once been successful, no longer was. All of my managers, including myself had taken significant pay cuts in our effort to save the business. My father, who had retired from my company, no longer received his retirement pension. We were under the microscope from our bank and all the actions of my company were being monitored. We were in a severe cash crunch and fighting for our survival. All of this was explained to the Court by me, my CPA and my banker. This was completely ignored by the Court. In fact the Court in its decision speculated that my salary would return to its previous level and that my company would recover the significant loss that it had incurred in a mere 18 months. Its reasoning speculated that once my salary returned to its previous level, I had the ability to pay the alimony support level that was ordered.

The Court's final decision was that I was ordered to pay my ex-spouse $2,200 per month permanently, with an automatic annual cost of living increase until either I had a significant change in my salary or my death, whichever occurred first. It is important to understand that prior to the trial both I and my ex-spouse had agreed to a 50%-50% equitable distribution of our acquired assets of the marriage. We sold the family home, split all joint bank accounts and split my 401-k and her pension. The only outstanding issue was the valuation of my remaining business assets which we agreed to split 50%-50% upon their sale.

For the next three years I paid what the court had ordered. I never missed a payment. My salary never returned to its previous level in spite of the Court's speculation that it would within 18 months. The result was that I was forced to spend down the assets that I had split with my ex-spouse to help pay for my court ordered alimony. I also had to utilize my personal credit cards to help meet my weekly expenses because my income did not support my expenses.

After 3 years I made the decision to return to court to seek a modification to my monthly alimony support payment. Both I and my attorney thought we had a strong argument to return to court. Although I had remarried and adopted a daughter, my ex-spouse had also remarried and my salary had not returned to its previous level that the Court had speculated and used to justify its initial order. However justice in the Vermont family court system is hard to obtain, especially if the Court has to admit that it was wrong in its initial decision, as was the case by my involuntary, permanently reduced salary. This time the Court chose to overlook that it had speculated about my salary level in its initial decision and instead based its judgment on the fact that there was not enough of a significant change in my salary level to make an adjustment. So initially its decision was based that my salary would return to its previous level and when it didn't it used another part of the law to prevent a justified adjustment. How do you seek justice when the Court has the discretion to do whatever it choses and is not held accountable for its actions? In its decision the trial Family Court reprimanded me for adopting my daughter. According to the Court, I should have saved the money that it cost for my daughter's adoption to ensure that I had the funds to keep my ex-spouse in her accustomed lifestyle. The fact that my ex-spouse's new husband doesn't have full time work wasn't held against her when we returned to court. It should also be noted that my ex-spouse is a full time teacher with a master's degree from UVM. She clearly could support herself with her salary, her new husband's salary if he chose to work and her teacher's pension going forward.

At the time I received my second decision, my ex-spouse's attorney told my attorney that even he was completely shocked that there wasn't some modification to my alimony amount. After consideration I made the decision to appeal the Court's second decision to the Vermont State Supreme Court. Again, thinking that the Vermont court system was based on justice and fairness, the Supreme Court would reverse the trial Court's decision and that I would obtain justice. That was not the case! The Vermont State Supreme Court backed up the decision of one of their own and the trial Court's decision was upheld.

The cost of both trials and my appeal, monthly alimony payments, along with my business failure has bankrupted me. The cost of the trials and alimony has exceeded $250,000 over the past 6 years. I was forced to file for bankruptcy protection this past January yet I am still required by the court to pay my ex-spouse each month or I go to jail because I would be in contempt of court if I do not pay my monthly obligation. Alimony is not affected by bankruptcy protection in Vermont.

The Vermont Family Court's decision has greatly impacted my life. I am thankful for the love and support of my wife and my daughter. Without my wife's financial support I would be unable to afford the basic human needs of food and shelter with what I have left over each month if I were living on my own. This has put enormous financial strain on her as well. Knowing what I know today, I don't think that I would have put my present wife through everything she had been through as I have struggled to seek justice in the Vermont Family Court System. There is a bias toward business owners in the divorce process that is detrimental toward second families as they try and move on from a divorce.

Vermont's alimony laws are out of date and impractical in today's society. Vermont's laws have not been modified to keep pace with the changing times of the 21st century. Judicial discretion needs to be addressed by the Vermont Legislature so that every Vermonter has the right to expect a fair, equitable and predictable settlement with an ex-spouse that is based on a set of predetermined guidelines that ensure justice for all. Only then can everyone from a divorce move on with their life and live their life with the ones they choose in peace. Who will advocate for me in this system? We need alimony reform desperately in Vermont, and action needs to happen now!

Rick Fleming, Windham County, Vermont

 

I am a female alimony payor whose ex-husband left her for another relationship, and I have to pay him! Vermont is a no-fault state, so this did not matter in court. There are many misconceptions about alimony, including that it is men paying women after leaving them for someone else. I am in complete contradiction to that as he left me for a much younger woman, and I am left paying for their lifestyle forever! I cannot believe this has happened. I have worked hard my whole life and deserve better than this; instead I am left paying $1000 a month of my hard-earned money to them forever! In the Court's calculations, that amount was based on an additional 15-20 weeks of overtime, which I am not eligible to earn now. The Court made me give him $16,500 out of my IRA and $28,000 from our house. In addition, he gets a portion of my pension for life. He is on disability for a supposed bad back, not having worked steadily, but having plenty of energy and stamina to hunt fish and play on my dime! I gain nothing from his SSI monies, why should he get money from my EARNED benefits? I worked hard, paid for all of the health and life insurance, a life insurance policy which he and his new girlfriend will benefit from if I die, which I have to maintain for him. I have no life insurance to cover me, which he was not required to do, yet I have to keep a policy for him. He falsely alleged that I abused him, costing me another $13,000 to return to Court, to which nothing was done nor proven. He even went so far as to subpoena his family and our neighbors to extort money out of me. I supported him most of life as I sickenly saw him sitting around in his underwear until noon every day. He could and should be working, but is deciding to live off of taxpayer money, and when that is not enough, he has me supporting him now in addition forever! He is cohabitating with his girlfriend who is also on SSI, so they are getting a really great deal. They are working the system and me and I am completely outraged! Every day of my life is a living nightmare and the abuse needs to stop! Child support can be modified based on income changes and has time limits. Why does alimony persist forever? We need alimony reform now!

L., Rutland County, VT

 

I was married in Westminster, Vermont in August of 2001. Prior to our wedding, an attorney drafted a prenuptial agreement that my fiancée and I signed, living by its terms until our separation in May 2012. At that time my wife sued to have the prenuptial agreement overturned. Though in its decision, the Windham County Family Court found the prenuptial agreement to be a legally valid contract arrived at without coercion, and though the Court did not find that applying the terms of the agreement would leave either party under financial duress, it set the agreement aside on the grounds of public policy, citing the mere fact that we had a child together subsequent to our marriage. The prenuptial agreement in no way adversely affected our son, his financial welfare, or his ability to inherit from his parents. Vermont law is clear that the court does not have the power to give property to a child of the marriage, and may only divide property between the parents. The State of Vermont enforces measures to protect the welfare of a child through child support and maintenance supplement, which were applied on behalf of my son at the time of separation and to which I have consistently abided. Ignoring these guidelines, the Court set aside a valid legal contract, forcing me to settle without the guarantees and protections that agreement clearly outlined.

Experts on family law within and outside of Vermont, including a professor at Vermont Law School, found this decision without precedent or legal justification and in error. My only recourse to this judicial overreach would have been to appeal to the Supreme Court of Vermont at a cost of an additional $25,000 and at least two more years of litigation. Having already borrowed over $35,000 to defend a valid prenuptial agreement, I was unable to continue to litigate and was compelled to settle at a great disadvantage, losing the home we had jointly owned outright.

I could not have imagined that I would lose my home as a result of a single unelected government official disregarding governing legal statute to undo a valid and legally binding agreement, with no oversight or the realistic possibility of appeal. It is of great concern that Family Courts in Vermont at times operate willfully outside of case law precedent, disregarding legal agreements and demonstrating a pattern of prejudicial decisions.

Thanks,

Brian D. Cohen, Windham County, Vermont

 

FACTS:

1. I am a woman who was granted sole physical and legal custody of two minor children at the time of my divorce. (2007)

2. The marriage lasted 15 years. We were both employed the entire time with full time jobs.

3. During the 15 years, I was the sole caretaker of the two children (and a step child from my ex- husband's first marriage). This was a court fact.

4. I had a full time job (as a teacher) for the entire length of the marriage, and advanced my degree (obtained a master's in educational administration) and was promoted to a school administrator TWO years before the separation/divorce, resulting in the fact that my increased income was for two years only while we were married.

5. The disparity in our incomes was such that I was ordered to pay alimony for TEN years at a rate of $1,250/ month. I did not appeal this, as my lawyer at the time told me it would not be worth it.

6. I received child support from the children's father for the past seven years for my son and the support for my daughter ended in 2010. I tried to modify the spousal support order then but was told that college expenses, as "not unexpected, unanticipated change in circumstances" and was not given a hearing.

7. Both children are now over 18, so child support has ended.

8. Spousal support is still in effect until 2017 (meaning that my ex-husband would now be receiving MORE $ / month because child support has been eliminated).

9. I have stopped paying the alimony because I am now the sole provider of college expenses for both children and the loan payments are more than the alimony. The father of the children does NOT think it is his responsibility to contribute ANY college expenses.

10. I realize I am now in contempt of a court order, but I simply cannot afford to continue to pay for the two children and their father to live. (He is still employed full time)

11. My ex-husband filed a Contempt of court motion and I was given a court date in 9/2014. Both of the children knew about this as they are now adults and their father's lack of monetary help as put them in a very different financial position than they would have been in had he contributed. My daughter insisted on accompanying me to court, and I discouraged this.

12. When I arrived in court, I was asked why I had stopped paying after seven years of paying and never missing one payment. I explained that now I was paying a student loan in the amount of: $650 and I could not pay both their father and the loan, so I chose the children!

13. I was told by the Court, "Mrs. Couillard, the college expenses are a CHOICE and the alimony is court ordered, so therefore not a choice, so we will need to schedule this for another hearing."

14. I decided I did not want to go back to court, so I tried to negotiate with my ex to pay off this debt in one lump sum. I figured I would be ordered to pay the remaining three years which would have equaled $45,000 (three years at $15,000/year).

15. I borrowed $25,000 from my brother and we both signed a stipulation (written by me, as I could no longer afford a lawyer) that we would agree this would be the final payment.

16. So……….in total I have paid: $150,000 in alimony! I always allowed both of my children to have any camp/team/lessons/tutoring that was recommended (or they requested) because I never wanted them to go without because their parents were not married. I also have $77,000 in student loan debt and my son is still attending college.

Lauren K., Burlington, VT

 

We divorced after 25 years. Our kids were both over 18 years old. My ex worked most of the 25 years and even obtained her master's degree during that time. I only have a GED. The last ten years I made decent money. Unfortunately for me, lucky for her; the unfair alimony laws are excellent for her.

We returned to court for an alimony modification because my pay decreased $30,000! I was told by the Court that the decrease was not significant! Not only did I get a pay decrease, I had my lawyer fees of $12,000, her lawyer fees of $8,000 and didn't get a modification! My ex-wife actually lied in Court. She was clearly cohabiting at the time and denied it.

Outcome of the divorce:

My ex received half of my retirement, she gets 60% of the proceeds of the homestead (I am ordered to pay the mortgage, taxes and ALL expenses) and after I pay her alimony for 21 years she will get a total of $640,000!!

My ex has purchased a condo (her boyfriend is still living with her and he too is employed), new car, motorcycle (she does not have a motorcycle license) goes on vacation every year, has her nails and hair done on a regular basis, bought a pure bred puppy but claims she is "BROKE"!

Steve, Windham County, VT

 

I actually believe that most anyone who has to pay alimony in this current era has a horror story to tell. Alimony is an archaic law that has no place in our current society.

The alimony law was manipulated by my ex-spouse in my divorce. She has a Master's Degree in Education with a lucrative career and decided to stop working at 62, and divorce me. She started collecting social security and a very generous pension, and demanded a huge sum of alimony. She was, to my shock, actually granted alimony. I was told that she had to maintain her current lifestyle. When I asked about my lifestyle there was no answer. She got the house and land and I had to move into an apartment. So I had to work, live in an apartment and pay her money. She got to NOT work, live in my house, and get money for free. I didn't get it. She was perfectly capable of working, she wasn't disabled. She just didn't want to work. She said it herself.

So my daughter, who I support by the way, graduates high school in Vermont and moves away for college so I can finally move away from Vermont to be near my family. It took me longer to find a job than I thought it would. I'm an RN but I'm 60 years old. I sent a motion to the Court just asking that alimony payments be suspended for the 3 months I was out of work and had no income (and no savings). It made sense to me, she has income, and I have no income, so I don't pay her? It's not like I was asking her to pay me, which actually would make a lot of sense if you think about it. Well of course she wants a hearing because of course she doesn't agree. So the Court kindly decides to lower the payments for the months I was out of work, but actually admonishes me for being careless with her support money by being out of work. It's surreal.

So it's been 7 years since the divorce, the relationship wasn't even 7 years long. I'm still in an apartment, overdrawn a lot of the time with no savings. I'm supporting my daughter alone through college. That's my lifestyle. And I am still paying her alimony. Alimony is about making one person the victim and it has to stop.

Alimony also prevents emotional healing. Every paycheck is an emotional rape when I see that money I need and worked hard for has been wrongly garnished from my pay. The contentious divorce goes on forever and it can never be put behind with the constant reminders. The negativity this engenders can't help but spill over into the parent child relationships as well. I can't see how the state benefits from participating in this outrageous unfairness.

One final point: the garnishment of my pay for alimony puts me at risk for losing my livelihood. I am forced to live paycheck to paycheck. I have large student loan payments. I live in a state where if I default on a student loan I will lose my RN license. It is imperative that I make all student loan payments. I explained this to the Court and asked that my pay therefore not be garnished. My request was denied. No one should fear the loss of their livelihood because their money is taken from them and given to someone who won't even work. No one should fear losing a license that is important to them.

Thank you for doing this important work.

Maureen, Vermont

 

Nine years after the VT Family Court System deemed it necessary to pay an ex-spouse $1200.00/month I am now $108,000.00 poorer and she is that much richer; for what? Mind you, VT is a no fault State regarding divorce.

Let's back up a little. My marriage of approx. 19 years had gone south to the point that on the last occasion we were in our marital home my ex struck me in the face, drawing blood from both sides of my nose where my eyeglasses had cut in, to which my response was to call the cops and I filed a domestic violence complaint against her sending her to jail for the night. The following Monday she was in court to face the charges only to come out with a restraining order on me? Remember who hit who. The divorce proceedings followed soon after in 2002 I was age 40 and she was 39 and we had three children ages 10,13, and 16. Two months earlier I had given up on a self-employment venture working as a wood craftsman/furniture builder. She continued to babysit for minimal income despite the mental and physical ability to do much more. The divorce proceedings took nearly 2 years and with the help of three different lawyers at the cost of approx. $12,000.00 the outcome all came down to the Court's discretion. The judgment was for the marital home to be refinanced in her name only with my share of the $60,000.00 homes equity of $5000.00 to be paid to me. There was no retirement fund to split. My wages were too garnished for $1000.00/ month in permanent alimony, on top of $1,150.00 in total child support/month for my three children. Mind you my new jobs income was about $4000.00/ month gross. This forced me to have to work as many as three jobs at once to meet all my own obligations plus these court ordered ones. Also the only reason she gave for not being more gainfully employed was that she was too shy! The appeals court upheld these findings.

If that is not bad enough; within a year after the divorce she had remarried which prompted me to file for a modification due to the remarriage and the resulting lack of need for continued support. This was denied by the same Court stating that due to my soon to be new wife's income and my ex's new spouses income basically cancelled each other's out so I thereby did not meet the VT statute for a "substantial unanticipated change" necessary for a modification order to be heard.

Here we are in the year 2015 and these kind of stories are happening more frequently than less and we are finding that the permanent decree often means to the death of either the payor or payee so the payor cannot even look forward to a normal retirement without this ridiculous involuntary servitude obligation threatening even the golden years of life.

Here are some of the many issues of Alimony Reform that should come into review:

1. Excessive alimony judgments for both; amount and duration?
a. permanent vs. rehabilitative
1. Amounts are punitive in nature.
consider that even dependent children do not receive support beyond age 18, why should an adult?
concurrent child support and Alimony in excess of ability to pay
1. VT law allows only $800.00/ month for the payors' existence which is less than what welfare recipients
are allowed.

2. Both parties capable of gainful employment

3. Should end automatically with remarriage of payee

4. The use of the payors' new spouse's income in calculating a need for support is in effect making the new
spouse pay the ex-spouses income.

5. Does not automatically end at retirement age along with the cessation of earned income

Keith, Vermont

 

I divorced my wife of 23 years when the emotional bullying had finally driven me to the point where I contemplated taking my own life. Our divorce became final in the spring of 2011. As part of the final order, I was saddled with the obligation to pay my ex $600 per month in spousal support. I argued at the time this was not sustainable. I had been working with my father in his business brokerage for 8 years at that point. Business took a decided turn for the worse in 2008, as did the rest of the U.S. economy. I knew I was not going to be able to make a living from the brokerage much longer. I stated such in court, but the court only ever viewed this as me simply walking away from a lucrative enterprise, which is not the case. Following the final decree, I was discouraged by those around me from contesting the final order with the reasoning that it was a futile endeavor. The permissible period of appeal expired. I filed a motion to modify but this was rejected by the Vermont Family Court. It stated, in effect, that the economy was no different in 2012 than it was the previous year when I had earned roughly $49,000; therefore there was no reason I couldn't do that now. When I ran out of money to operate in the brokerage, I took the first job I could find, which was with Vermont Country Store. This was a seasonal position with a reasonable promise of being hired on permanently. I was not kept on and was laid off in January of 2012. As I was unable to make my required spousal support payments, my ex filed a series of motions (these have averaged about 3 per year) for which I had to appear before the Court again to show why I should not be held in contempt. I successfully demonstrated that I had not paid due to circumstances beyond my control. I am a 51 year old fat, bald man competing for the few jobs that become available with hundreds of other applicants; the odds are most definitely stacked against me, in my experience. As I was self-employed for several years then employed seasonally, I was not eligible for unemployment compensation, so I have had no income whatsoever. My wife and I have survived on what she's brought home and some support from her parents. On one occasion in 2012, I missed a court date, which was an honest mistake on my part. I was summoned back to court to answer to a contempt charge at which the Court repeatedly threatened to have me incarcerated. The Court ended up imposing a penalty of $2,000, due in 3 weeks, which was applied to my spousal support arrears. I felt quite guilty about missing the date and was concerned about the possibility of being incarcerated. I begged my father-in-law for the money, which he lent me, so I paid the penalty and the matter was settled. With the exception of about 7 weeks last March & April, I have been unemployed for most of the past two years, despite my best efforts to secure employment. During that time, I've appeared before the same Court roughly 6 times. Each time, I was grilled extensively about every aspect of my life and my job search and continues to maintain that I could still be earning a lucrative living as a broker. Each of these appearances has lasted approximately 45 minutes. Every time I have appeared before the Court, I am starting from scratch with regard to its questions; I am not certain if notes are taken or the case reviewed before my appearances because every time I am asked the same questions and I have to explain every aspect of my situation over and over again. Then, each time, the Court makes snap ill-informed decisions based on situations that it has no knowledge or understanding of, drawing on various industry expertise that it does not possess and my situation gets progressively worse. At my last appearance, September 6th, my ex made the argument that I've racked up approximately $8,500 in arrears and when he ordered me to cough up $2,000 within 3 weeks, I came up with it. I had filed motions to both modify my spousal support and to have at least a portion of the arrears forgiven. I had also filed a motion regarding a tax penalty I was hit with for 2009, the year my ex and I split. For that year, I had made an interim support agreement with my ex until the final decree, which didn't occur until 2011. Thus, I deducted amounts I paid to her from my adjusted income. The IRS declared that an illegitimate deduction and I was hit with a bill for $2,500 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Since my ex enjoyed those funds, tax free, I filed a motion to have that amount deducted from my arrears. I argued that it would be a painless way for my ex to meet her part of that obligation. The Court denied that as well as my request to have my support payments lowered and my request to have at least some of the arrears forgiven. The Court maintained that all my motions were baseless. Additionally, my ex requested that the Court order me to pay her at least 10% of the arrears within 7 days. The Court sided with her and ordered me to pay her $840.00 within 14 days, by Friday, September 20. I told the Court then and there that I had no way to come up with that money. I informed the Court that I had employment lined up with Vermont Country Store once again, which I begin on September 23rd.

However, these two are absolutely certain they can force me to cough it up under pressure. So I fully anticipate being summoned back once again to answer to a contempt charge.

The part of this situation that angers me the most is that no one will cut me any slack at all anywhere along the line, no matter how bad my situation gets. However, if things turn around for me and I start earning some money and even start improving my situation, my ex can and most certainly will file a motion to have her support increased, beyond anything she was ever "accustomed" to, and I can't help but believe that the Court will grant it. I find this whole process barbaric in 2015. Our divorce was a no-fault divorce, yet I have been convicted and am being punished as the bad guy.

I have discussed this situation at length with my wife and family and I am quite willing to make a civil protest in my case, even if it means being incarcerated temporarily. I am quite willing to stand up to this and any other Court.

Greg Henry, Rutland County, VT

 

Please contact us if you want to help change the laws in Vermont. If you are paying permanent alimony you need to join our organization. When you help us you help yourself.

 

 

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