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Legal Information: Vermont


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December 13, 2019

If the parents can’t agree about PR&R, what factors will a judge consider?

If the parents cannot agree about PR&R, there will be a contested hearing in front of a judge.  A judge makes a decision that s/he thinks will be in the child’s best interests.  Vermont laws say that after parents have separated or divorced, it is in the child’s best interests to have continuing, regular physical and emotional contact with both parents.  The exception to this, however, is when the child or the parent will suffer direct physical harm or significant emotional harm from seeing an abusive parent.1

If the parents cannot agree to divide or share parental rights and responsibilities, the judge will usually award rights and responsibilities to just one parent - but the other parent may still have parent-child contact.2

In Vermont, the courts do not choose one parent over the other because of the gender of the child, the gender of either parent, or the financial resources of a parent.3

A judge will consider factors like these when determining the child’s best interests:

  • the relationship of the child with each parent, including each parent’s ability to provide love, affection and guidance;
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with enough food, clothing, medical care, a safe environment, and other needs;
  • each parent’s ability to meet the child’s present and future developmental needs;
  • the child’s present housing, school and community and how the child would be affected by any change and adjustment to new surroundings;
  • each parent’s ability to create and keep a positive relationship with the other parent, and to see the other parent often and regularly. This includes seeing the other parent in person, not just over the phone, except where physical contact could result in harm to the child or to a parent;
  • the quality of the relationship between the child and whoever takes care of the child most of the time (“the primary caretaker”);
  • the relationship of the child with anyone else who might significantly affect the child (this could include relatives, babysitters, friends, etc.);
  • if the responsibility is shared or divided, the judge compares each parent’s ability to communicate/cooperate with the other parent and to make decisions together with the other parent about the child; and
  • evidence of abuse of a family or household member, and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationships between the child and the abusing parent.4 (See VT ST T. 15 § 1101(1) for the definition of “abuse.”)

 1 VT ST T. 15 § 650
 2 VT ST T. 15 § 655
 3 VT ST T. 15 § 665(b)
 4 VT ST T. 15 § 665(c)