How Are Parental Rights and Responsibilities Determined in Vermont?
What are parental rights and responsibilities?
Child custody is also known as Parental Rights and Responsibilities in Vermont. There are two components, legal and physical. In brief, legal rights involve the rights to make decisions regarding religion, (elective) medical, education... Physical rights define with whom the child primarily resides.
How is child custody determined?
In awarding custody, the court is charged by the legislature to consider the “best interests of the child” above all else. It can’t prefer a parent’s gender in making a determination and it can require the parent who gets custody to keep the other apprised of major events. It can also award one parent control of a particular matter (say, medical decisions) and the other control of the rest, or any permutation of that. The court considers, among other things, the factors listed in 15 V.S.A. 665. Summarized, they are:
(1) The relationship of the child with each parent and the ability and disposition of each parent to provide the child with love, affection and guidance.
(2) The ability and disposition of each parent to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, medical care, other material needs and a safe environment.
(3) The ability and disposition of each parent to meet the child's present and future developmental needs.
(4) The quality of the child's adjustment to the child's present housing, school and community and the potential effect of any change.
(5) The ability and disposition of each parent to foster a positive relationship and frequent and continuing contact with the other parent, including physical contact, except where contact will result in harm to the child or to a parent.
(6) The quality of the child's relationship with the primary care provider, if appropriate given the child's age and development.
(7) The relationship of the child with any other person who may significantly affect the child.
(8) The ability and disposition of the parents to communicate, cooperate with each other and make joint decisions concerning the children where parental rights and responsibilities are to be shared or divided.
(9) The evidence of abuse … and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationship between the child and the abusing parent.
In Vermont, all things being equal, courts often look primarily at: Who was the primary care provider for the child; who is most capable of fostering a loving relationship between the child and the other parent, and; the child’s roots in each parent’s respective community. Again, all things being equal. Your mileage may vary, as they say. I don’t speak for the court nor do I know the details of your case but most people are able to meet most of the other factors the court considers, such as the ability to provide love, affection, guidance, adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, a safe environment, a good education, etc. There are cases, of course, where one of these other issues becomes more important due to the individual circumstances of the matter. Evidence of any abuse certainly lands squarely on the court’s radar screen.
How is shared custody awarded in Vermont?
In Vermont, the court does not have the authority to award shared custody of the child unless the parents agree. The premise being that shared custody assumes the ability to make decisions together. Thus, the court doesn’t want to join a couple at the hip that can’t even make the first, threshold decision together, that is, to share custody.
Also, the financial resources of the parents usually don’t enter into the picture. Otherwise, the richest parent would always get custody. Child support is driven by the respective incomes (and the amount of time the child spends at each house) of the parents and is meant to level the playing field.
How should I prepare for my child custody case?
Hopefully, you and your soon-to-be-ex will conduct yourselves in a dignified and respectful manner throughout the divorce. Your kids will pick up on – and be negatively impacted by – anything short of behavioral complications. Even still, it is important to keep a journal of significant events in case you should need it later in a contested hearing. [Contested doesn’t have to mean acrimonious. It can and should be a respectful difference of opinion on a matter.] Such a journal should note the dates, witnesses and description of anything noteworthy (missed/denied visitations, less than stellar interactions, division of labor when the household was intact, expenses/debts/purchases incurred primarily for the benefit of one of the partners, etc.).
In any case, they say the weakest ink is better than the strongest memory. What is fresh in your mind now might fade to the un-recallable recesses of your mind 6-12 months from now when you are trying to recount things on the witness stand.
If your family is currently facing a child custody case, please contact experienced Vermont family lawyer, Kevin Volz at 802.775.0700.