Divorce Law & Intolerable Severity in Vermont

by Heather Frances J.D. Google

You may have many reasons for your divorce, but a Vermont court cannot grant your divorce petition unless your reasons match at least one of the grounds for divorce found in Vermont law. Allowable grounds include separation for six months, adultery, imprisonment for at least three years, gross neglect and intolerable severity.

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As the spouse filing for the divorce, you have the burden of proving to the court that grounds exist -- unless your spouse does not contest the grounds. To prove intolerable severity, you must show your spouse treated you cruelly, perhaps injuring you or threatening you to the point where such conduct became physically or mentally intolerable or placed your life, limb or health at risk. If your spouse consistently threatened to hurt you, such behavior may rise to the level of intolerable severity. However, if you feel you do not have enough evidence to prove this ground, you may file under Vermont’s no-fault grounds of separation for six months.


The Vermont court will determine a child custody arrangement it feels is in the best interests of your child. Intolerable severity may have an impact on the court’s custody decision if your spouse’s behavior meets the definition of abuse, which is one of the factors the court considers when making custody decisions. Under Vermont law, abuse includes causing physical harm, attempting to cause physical harm or placing another person in fear of being physically harmed. If your spouse was abusive, the court might award him limited or supervised visitation.

Property Division

As with child custody, Vermont courts consider many factors before dividing property between spouses. These factors include the length of the marriage, skills and employability of the spouses, contributions of each spouse to the acquisition of marital property and the merits of each spouse. Fault-based divorces -- those granted for reasons other than six-month separation -- may provide evidence for the court to consider as the “merits” of the spouse. If the court finds intolerable severity lessens the merits of your spouse, it could award more property to you. However, this is only one of many factors and may not have a significant impact on your property division.


Alimony, known as spousal maintenance in Vermont, is not automatically granted in the state, but courts can award either temporary or permanent alimony if one spouse cannot provide for her own needs and cannot obtain employment to support herself at the standard of living she enjoyed during the marriage. When the court determines the amount of alimony, it considers the emotional condition of the spouse seeking support, which may be fragile because of the other spouse’s severity. Marital misconduct, including intolerable severity, is not specifically mentioned in Vermont law as a factor in alimony decisions.