On May 17, 2019, the Vermont Senate and House both passed House Bill H.512 and sent the bill to Gov. Scott for his signature. We encourage Gov. Scott to sign this important legislation.

H.512 contains changes to the spousal maintenance laws for the residents of the state of Vermont. Specifically, it removes the word “permanent” from the statutes and replaces it with “long term;” it adds an additional factor that judges can consider to address the impact of retirement for both parties in a spousal maintenance award, and it adjusted the Spousal Maintenance Matrix factor to reflect the changes in the federal tax code that took effect in January 2019 as it relates to spousal maintenance payments.

The addition of the additional factor begins to address the concern of retirement for both parties in a spousal maintenance award. The additional factor states that the judge can consider: “The impact of both parties reaching the age of eligibility to receive full retirement benefits under Title II of the federal Social Security Act or the parties’ actual retirement, including any expected discrepancies in federal Social Security Retirement benefits.”

Vermont Alimony Reform applauds both the Senate and House for beginning to address Vermont’s outdated spousal maintenance statutes. We look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders including the Senate, the House, the Vermont Commission on Women and the Vermont Bar Association during the next legislative session to bring true reform to all Vermonters.

Broad judicial discretion is still the presumptive law in determining spousal maintenance awards throughout Vermont, as the factors mentioned above are at the individual judge’s discretion. Continued judicial discretion continues a lack of consistency and predictability in spousal maintenance awards. There needs to be structure and guidelines within the statutes that clearly defines what both parties of a divorce are entitled to without damaging conflict and expensive litigation to sift through the mountains of vague case law that can impact a spousal maintenance award. This is especially difficult for low-income Vermonters who cannot afford the expense and for parties that want to represent themselves pro se, which represent a larger percentage of individuals each year in our court system.

This is not a political issue nor is it a gender issue. This is an issue that affects women, men, children and families throughout our great state. Massachusetts and New Hampshire have reformed spousal maintenance laws for their citizens. Now is the time for Vermont to do the same.

Rick Fleming is president of Vermont Alimony Reform in Brattleboro. Vermont Alimony Reform is a grassroots organization working to reform Vermont’s spousal maintenance statutes. Please visit our website for more information at: vtalimonyreform.com.

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