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Vermont Supreme Court Emphasizes Bright Line Between Marriages and Civil Unions in Vermont

In Solomon v. Guidry, 2016 VT 108, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the family court’s dismissal, without considering the merits, of a civil union dissolution action.

Issue: Parties were married in Vermont, but resided in North Carolina, and had no minor children. They filed an uncontested complaint for dissolution with a final stipulation, all in accordance with the requirements of 15 VSA 1206(b). The family court dismissed the action, stating that the parties had not proved that they had tried to file in North Carolina. The court specifically noted its concern that, if Vermont continues to hear out-of-state civil union dissolutions, it will encourage other states to ignore the US Supreme Courts’ ruling in Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the US. Parties appealed.

Holding: The Court reversed and remanded, finding that civil unions and marriages are distinct legal entities in Vermont, and Obergefell only mandates that all states recognize marriages. The Court also held that the legislative purpose of 15 VSA 1206 was to aid parties whose home states would not recognize their Vermont civil union for the purpose of dissolution. The Court noted that the parties did not need to show that they had attempted to file for a dissolution in their home state; it was sufficient that they submitted an affidavit from a North Carolina attorney stating that North Carolina court would not recognize the civil union for purposes of a dissolution.

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