When two people decide to end their relationship, it is never an easy process. This is true whether they are just casually dating, in a serious relationship, or even married. When a married couple decides to divorce and end their relationship, they not only have to untie the life they built together but also have to put a custody agreement in place for any children they share. As if the divorce process was not enough, having to deal with Vermont child custody issues can often be the most frustrating and emotional part of the divorce process. When it comes to child custody cases in the state of Vermont, the Vermont family law court system always does what is in the best interests of the child.
How is Child Custody Determined in Vermont?
When parents decide to end their relationship, the judge must make a Vermont child custody order for any child considered to be a minor. In the state of Vermont, the court determines what custody and visitation agreements are within the best interests of the child standard. Some of the possible outcomes of this custody agreement could be an order for joint custody (where parents share custody) or sole custody (where one parent has custody and the other parent is awarded visitation). In these cases, one parent is the custodial parent and the other the non-custodial parent.
When making this determination, Vermont courts are instructed to not take the parents’ genders or financial situations into consideration – either parent can gain custody of the child regardless of these factors. Some of the factors the court considers include, but are not limited to:
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- Each parent’s ability to provide affection, love, and guidance for the child
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s mental, emotional and physical needs
- Any developmental needs of the child and whether each parent can meet those needs
- How the child is adjusting to home and school life after parents’ separation
- The child’s relationship with other caregivers
- The child’s relationship with other siblings
- The child’s relationship with other significant individuals in his or her life
- Each parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate with one another regarding the child
- Any additional factors the judge determines to be relevant
The court’s overall goal is to ensure that the child still has continued contact with both parents, so he or she can build and maintain a positive relationship with both of them. However, should there be any evidence of child abuse or factors that may cause harm to the child, the parent accused of abuse may only be ordered supervised visitations or possibly no visitation at all. Vermont courts take any allegations of child abuse seriously and never risk putting the child in harm’s way.
Parenting Plans in Vermont
Before the judge makes an order for Vermont child custody, the parents are encouraged to work together to come up with a parenting plan agreement on their own. This plan needs to be very detailed and outline a number of different scenarios including who the child will reside with during the week, who will have custody and care of the child on weekends, what the visitation schedule will be in cases when there is one custodial parent, how the child will be transported to and from these visitations, and how the parents will share holidays and vacation time with the child.
In addition to outlining the schedule for custody of the child, the plan also needs to outline some additional factors. These factors include how the parents plan to make important decisions regarding the child’s health, schooling, medical needs, community involvement, and religious upbringing, as well as how the parents plan to share the costs of the child’s medical expenses, school expenses, and any other relevant expenses. It is important to include as much detail as possible so there are no questions regarding the agreement.
Child Custody Modification in Vermont
Once the child custody arrangement has been agreed upon by the parents or ordered by the court, changes are not able to be made to the plan in place since it becomes legally binding. In some situations, however, it may be possible to make modifications to the custody agreement. In most cases, the judge limits the number of modifications to only those absolutely necessary for the child’s best interests. This is due to the idea that too many changes in a child’s environment can have a negative effect on him or her developmentally and emotionally, which is why the standard for modification is so high.
However, should the parents be in agreement on the modifications needing to be made, it is often much easier for the judge to approve them and add the amendment to the current child custody agreement. Parents need to discuss outside of court or with the help of a mediator what changes need to be made and then present the new parenting plan to the judge. Should parents agree on the proposed changes without any disputes and the judge sees that the changes are in the child’s best interests, the court likely adopts the modification and makes it legally binding.
Conversely, should the parents not agree on the changes needing to be made, the process for making modifications to the Vermont child custody agreement legally binding is much more difficult. In this case, the parent wishing to make changes to the agreement is burdened with proving the proposed changes are absolutely necessary and that a significant change in circumstances has occurred for the parent or the child. The judge then considers all of the relevant factors surrounding the modifications, including why they are being opposed, and makes a judgement.
Custody and Relocation in Vermont
In situations where one parent has primary custody and the non-custodial parent has visitation, the issue of relocation can be a difficult one. This is most definitely the case when the custodial parent proposes to move farther away from the non-custodial parent with the child. Issues arise when the distance between the parents affects the non-custodial parent’s ability to fulfill visitation and increases the possibility he or she may spend less time with the child.
Should parents agree to the relocation, the process is much easier. However, should only one parent approve of the move and the other oppose it, the parent wishing to relocate needs to prove why the move is necessary, that a significant change in circumstances has occurred, and that the relocation is in the child’s best interests. The judge considers all relevant factors, including reasons for opposition, before making a judgement.