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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.

Filing for custody (PR&R)

back to topHow do I file for parental rights and responsibilities?

It depends on the particulars of your situation.  To find out what the process will be like for you, please consult a lawyer in your area.

Generally, if the parents are married, one or both of the parents usually files for PR&R as part of a divorce action.  If the parents were never married or if either is filing before seeking a divorce, either parent can file for PR&R in the county in which the child has been living for at least six months.

In Vermont, legal disputes involving child custody and child support are settled in family court.  There is a family court in every county.  Most family courts have a “case manager” who is responsible for helping families understand their legal rights and responsibilities.  The case manager can help parents reach an agreement on parental rights and responsibilities (custody), parent-child contact (visitation), child support and other matters – or pinpoint areas of disagreement – before they see a judge.  The case manager cannot make a final decision if the parents do not agree, and the parents always have the right to appear before a judge.

To contact the family court in your area, go here: VT Courthouse Locations.

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back to topHow much does it cost to file? Do I need a lawyer?

The Vermont Judiciary website posts a list of fees for certain cases.  Click here to access it.  If you do not see the fee for the case you are filing, or have questions, you can call the local courthouse to ask what the fee is and, if you are a low-income person, you can ask if there is a fee waiver available.  Go here to find the courthouse near you: VT Courthouse Locations.

Although you do not need a lawyer to file, it is almost always best to have a lawyer help you if you can get one.  This can help make sure that your rights and your children’s rights are protected.  If you cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to find sources of free or low-cost legal help on our VT Finding a Lawyer page.

If you are unable to get a lawyer, you can get the forms you need at the local courthouse or you can visit our Download Court Forms Page for links to some of these forms online.

You should know that court workers cannot tell you whether you should bring your case to court or what will happen if you do.  Even if you plan on representing yourself, it may be helpful for you to have a lawyer review your forms before you file them.


 

 

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back to topWhat happens if I recently moved to Vermont - can I still file here?

You can file for custody in the "home state" of the child or a state where the child has significant connections.  The "home state" is the state where your child has lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six months in a row.  (Leaving the state for a short period of time does not change your child’s home state).  If your child is less than 6 months old, then your child’s home state is the state where he or she has lived since birth.  However, there are exceptions to the "home state" rule -- see What are the exceptions to the home state rule?

If you and your child recently moved to a new state, generally you cannot file for custody in that new state until you have lived there for at least six months.  Until then, you or the other parent can start a custody action in the state where your child has most recently lived for at least 6 months.

Example: If a family lives in Vermont for one year, Vermont is the home state.  If one parent moved to New Hampshire with the children and has lived there for only 4 months, then Vermont would still be the home state.  This means that he or she would still have to file for custody in Vermont.  Once s/he has been in New Hampshire for 6 months or more, then New Hampshire would become the “home state” and s/he could file there.

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back to topWhat are the exceptions to the “home state rule”?

There are exceptions to the home state rule. In some cases, you can file for custody in a state where the children and at least one parent have "significant connections."  If you don’t think that Vermont would meet the traditional requirement for a “home state,” you may still be able to file for custody in Vermont if: 

• No other state is the “home state” according to the definition, and the court thinks that it is in the best interest of the child to decide the issue and
• The child and at least one parent have significant ties to the state and
• There is substantial evidence concerning the support of the child available in the state. 

If Vermont is your child's home state, you may be able to file for temporary emergency custody in a different state if:

1. The child is present in that state; and
2. The child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, a parent, or sibling is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse.*

For more information on getting a custody order transferred to another state, see Changing a final custody order.  This can be very complicated, and if you think this applies to your situation, please talk to a lawyer in both states about this - you can find free and paid lawyers in your state here: VT Finding a Lawyer.  Or you can write to our Email Hotline for other resources.

* UCCJEA § 204(a)

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back to topCan I change the state where the case is being heard?

Maybe.  If you move to another state, you may be able to change the state where the custody case is being heard.  However, if the other parent disagrees with moving the case or if the court has already spent a lot of time and resources on the case, it may be hard to get it transferred.  This is often complicated, and as with all custody issues, we recommend that you talk to a lawyer about this.  For more information on getting a custody order transferred to another state, see Changing a final custody order.  For legal advice, go to VT FInding a Lawyer.  You can also write to our Email Hotline for more information.

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