Families Change
Teen Guide to Separation & Divorce

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Parents Who Are Not Married

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Some parents choose to live together without getting married. 

When parents who aren’t married stop living together, they don't have to get a divorce because there is no marriage to end. But they do need to decide how to continue caring for their children and how they will divide their property.

The laws about how parents will make major decisions about their children’s lives are the same as they are for married parents.  The law talks about these issues as “parental rights and responsibilities.” The court can help unmarried parents resolve these issues – similar to how it works in a divorce.

One major difference is that a Vermont Family Division (court) will not deal with dividing the property and debts of the parents if they are unmarried. The parents need to figure that out on their own.

Q & A

Q:
What is the difference between separation and divorce?
A:

When two people have been living together and they decide not to live together anymore, they are separated. However, when married people separate, their marriage has not yet ended. They have to get a divorce to legally end a marriage. Common-law couples don't have to get a divorce, because there is no marriage to end.

Q:
My parents never married. Do they have to go through the same process that married parents do when they split up?
A:

Parents who chose to live together without getting married don't have to get a divorce, because there is no marriage to end. But they do need to decide what will happen to their children and how they will divide their property.

Q:
Who decides who I will live with?
A:

Ideally, your parents will make the decisions together about who you will live with and how that will work. Your opinion should be taken into account.

If they can't decide themselves, they might go to a mediator for help in reaching an agreement. Or they might have to go to court and have a judge make the decisions for them.