Separation Rights and Abandonment in Vermont

by Cindy Chung

When a husband or wife chooses to leave the marital home, the abandoned spouse often faces financial worries or legal concerns. Spousal abandonment may result in civil penalties if a spouse commits spousal desertion according to Vermont law. Abandonment of a spouse can also affect each spouse's family law rights if a husband or wife decides to file for a legal separation in Vermont.

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Definition of Spousal Desertion

In some states, the abandonment of a spouse violates each spouse's marital right to financial support from the other spouse. In Vermont, state law establishes spousal desertion as a civil offense. The state defines spousal desertion as the deliberate choice to withhold financial support while allowing the husband or wife to become destitute. However, the state does not allow spousal desertion charges if the non-supportive spouse does not have the financial ability to provide support.

Penalties for Spousal Desertion

As a civil offense in Vermont, the abandonment of a spouse and a lack of financial support qualifying as spousal desertion may result in legal penalties and fines. State law sets a maximum sentence of imprisonment for two years. The state may also require payment of a fine in an amount up to $300. The state may take a fine paid by a husband or wife for spousal desertion and use the money toward support of the deserted spouse.

Grounds for Legal Separation

Abandonment of a spouse also serves as one of the grounds available to get a legal separation in Vermont. Legal separation involves many of the same legal issues included in a divorce, but does not free the spouses to remarry. Vermont domestic relations laws allow a legal separation based on any of the grounds established for divorce in the state. Abandonment qualifies a husband or wife to file for divorce if the missing spouse has been absent for at least seven years and has not communicated with the abandoned husband or wife during that period of time. In addition, Vermont state laws allow divorce based on willful desertion. A spouse can obtain a legal separation or divorce in Vermont based on desertion if the other spouse has the means to provide financial support but refuses to do so.

Legal Separation Rights

A spouse can file for a legal separation in Vermont by completing a Summons and Complaint for Legal Separation. The spouse receiving the complaint has a right to file a response within a specified period of time. If the court does not receive a response, the spouse requesting a legal separation may be able to get a judgment that does not consider the missing spouse's preferences. The terms of the legal separation, which may include child custody or property division issues, become legally binding on the absent spouse. For example, the court may apply Vermont marital property laws to make an equitable distribution of the couple's property.