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Know the Laws: Vermont

UPDATED March 29, 2017

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WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you get help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action.To find help, please go to the VT Where to Find Help page.

Who can get custody and visitation

back to topCan a parent who committed violence get parental rights and responsibilities (custody) or parent-child contact (visitation)?

It is possible, yes.  Evidence of abuse, and the impact of abuse on the child is only one of the factors that the court will use in determining parental rights and responsibilities.*  It is important to note that for these purposes, "abuse" can be any one of the following: attempting to cause or causing you physical harm; placing you in fear of immediate serious physical harm; child abuse; stalking; or sexual assault.** 

Evidence of abuse is considered in the following manner.  If the other parent has been convicted of domestic assault against you within the past 10 years or a court found that the parent committed abuse against you, or a member of your family or household, then the judge can only let the abusive parent have contact with the child if protections can be put in place to keep you and the child safe.***  These are some of the protections that the court can order:

  1. the exchange of the child will occur in a protected setting;
  2. visitation with the child will be supervised by another person or by an agency (with the agency's fee to be paid by the abuser);
  3. the abuser must go to counseling;
  4. the abuser must stop using alcohol or drugs during the visitation and 24 hours before it begins (if alcohol or drugs were involved in the domestic abuse);
  5. the abuser cannot have overnight visits;
  6. keeping the address of the child confidential; and
  7. any other condition to keep you and the child safe.****
Note: If your child was conceived as a result of sexual assault by the other parent, there are different laws that apply.  For more information, see If my child was conceived as a result of sexual assault, can the offender get parental rights and responsibilities? 

* 15 V.S.A. § 665(b)(9)
** 15 V.S.A. § 1101(1)
*** 15  V.S.A. § 665a(a)
**** 15 V.S.A. § 665a(b), (c)


 

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back to topIf my child was conceived as a result of sexual assault, can the offender get parental rights and responsibilities?

If your child was conceived due to sexual assault, the other parent (the offender) can be denied all contact with the child.  However, the situation is slightly different if the offender was convicted in criminal court of the sexual assault or not.

When there is a criminal conviction:
If the other parent was convicted in a criminal court of one of the following crimes, and your child was conceived as a result, the judge can grant you sole parental rights and responsibilities and deny all parent-child contact to the offender.  The following crimes are included under sexual assault for the purpose of this law: sexual assault as explained in subsections(a),(b),(d),(e); aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault of a child, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, or similar crimes in other states.*

If a judge issues an order granting you sole custody and denying parent-child contact, the order is permanent and cannot be modified.  If there was a prior parental rights and responsibilities order in place regarding the child and the offender, the judge is supposed to terminate (end) that order.*1

When there is not a criminal conviction:
Even if the other parent was not convicted of a crime related to sexual assault but you can still prove to a judge by clear and convincing evidence that you were sexually assaulted or sexually exploited and the child was conceived as a result, the judge can still grant you sole custody, deny all parent-child contact to the other parent, and terminate any existing parent-child contact order between the child and the offender.  However, the judge has to first determine whether or not it would be in the child's best interests to do so and it may be possible to modify the order in the future if the party can prove there are extraordinary, real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances.*2 

For the purpose of this part of the law, you must prove that even though the other parent was not convicted of any of these crimes, he committed one of the following against you: sexual assault as explained in subsections(a),(b),(d),(e); aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault of a child, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child, or similar crimes in other states; sexual exploitation of an inmate; sexual exploitation of a minor; sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult, or similar crimes in other states.*3

Note: Getting an order under either of these above scenarios that denies the offender all parent-child contact does not affect your right to file for child support against him.  You can still seek child support if you choose to do so.*4

* VT ST T. 15 § 665(f)(1)
*1 VT ST T. 15 § 665(f)(1)(A),(B)
*2 VT ST T. 15 § 665(f)(2), (f)(2)(C)
*3 VT ST T. 15 § 665(f)(2)(A)
*4 VT ST T. 15 § 665(f)(3)

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back to topCan I get temporary custody as a part of a relief from abuse order (restraining order) against the other parent?

Maybe.  If a judge believes that there is immediate danger of physical or emotional harm to children under 18, the judge court may award temporary custody of these minor children to the non-abusive parent or to other persons.*  Under the Vermont Abuse Prevention law, if you go to court and the court finds enough evidence of abuse, the judge must make a temporary order to protect you, your child or both, which may include:

1. a temporary award of parental rights and responsibilities (custody), or

2. an order which restricts parent-child contact in whatever way is necessary to protect you or your child, or both, from abuse.  This order could include conditions under which you may deny parent-child contact until going back to court.**

If the court finds that there is an immediate danger of physical abuse, an order of emergency relief may be granted requiring the abuser:

1. To refrain from abusing the victim, the children, or both, and
2. To refrain from abusing the victim’s personal liberty, the personal liberty of the children, or both.

For more information on relief from abuse orders and how to get one, see our VT Restraining Orders page.

* VT ST T. 15 § 1104

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back to topI am the child's grandparent. Can I get visitation?

In certain cases, grandparents can ask the court for visitation.  If there is a court which has considered or is considering the custody or visitation of a child, the grandparent can file a written request with the court to ask for visitation.  The court can grant it if it would be in the best interest of the child.* 

If there is no such case going on regarding custody or visitation, a grandparent can start his/her own case for visitation in superior court ONLY if a parent of the child:

  • is deceased (dead),
  • is physically or mentally unable to make a decision about visitation, or
  • has abandoned the child.**
When deciding whether or not visitation with the grandparent would be in the child’s best interest, a judge may look at:
  • the love, affection and other emotional ties existing between the grandparent and the child;
  • the ability and willingness of the parties involved to give the child love, affection and guidance;
  • the nature of the relationships between the grandparent and the grandchild and the desirability of maintaining the relationship;
  • the moral fitness of the parties;
  • the mental and physical health of the parties;
  • the child’s reasonable preference, if the court believes the child is old enough to express a preference;
  • the willingness and ability of the grandparent to help and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parties and; and
  • any other factor which the court considers to be relevant.***
If you are denied visitation by the judge, you have to wait one year before you can file for it again unless there has been a substantial and unanticipated change of circumstances since you were denied the visitation -- then you can re-file before the one year period is up.****

* VT ST T. 15 § 1011
** VT ST T. 15 § 1012
*** VT ST T. 15 § 1013
**** VT ST T. 15 § 1015

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back to topIf I have moved away from the home where the father and children currently live, will this hurt my chances of gaining custody?

Perhaps.  It will depend on the facts of the case.  If you left the home due to abuse, and your children were also being abused, the judge might fault you for leaving your children with the abuser.  However, if there is a valid reason that you were unable to take the children with you, the judge might consider this as well.  If you are considering moving away from the home where your children and the father live, you may want to speak with an attorney for advice first about how it will impact your case.  For a list of legal resources, go to our VT Finding a Lawyer page.

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