Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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A husband appealed a final divorce order, challenging the trial court’s property division, and claimed the court erred in awarding him an amount of spousal maintenance outside the statutory guideline without stating a reason for diverging from the guideline. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Jaro v. Jaro" on Justia Law

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Mark Ogilbee (father) and Caroline Lee (mother) were married in January 1995 and separated in December 2015. Mother filed a complaint for divorce in March 2016 and requested that the court grant her sole legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities. Father conceded sole physical rights to mother, but he sought liberal parent-child contact. He proposed several alcohol-related conditions to ensure his sobriety during his time with their daughter, including abstaining from alcohol during her visits, sending mother frequent breathalyzer tests, and attending treatment groups to support his sobriety. Father also sought legal parental rights and responsibilities in decision-making for their daughter, 50% of the marital estate, and alimony. Father appeals the trial court’s final divorce order, challenging the court’s parent-child contact plan, parental rights and responsibilities determination, and property division. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion with respect to setting the parent-child contact schedule. However, the Court determined the trial court's decision failed to adequately explain the rationale behind the division of parental rights and responsibilities, and that portion of the decision was reversed and remanded for further findings and conclusions. The trial court also erred in its property-division determination by valuing the parties' marital assets as of the date of the parties' separation rather than the date of the final divorce hearing. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Lee v. Ogilbee" on Justia Law

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Father Mar-Rea Terino appealed the family court’s denial of his request to include a mechanism in his divorce decree for revisiting parent-child contact for his two-year-old child as the child got older, particularly as the child reached school age. Father also argued the family court erred in failing to address various proposals in his parenting plan. The Vermont Supreme Court found trial court may anticipate that a parent-child contact schedule, which was developed specifically to meet present needs that the child will predictably outgrow, may be ill suited to the child’s best interests at an identified future time. In such cases, the trial court cannot prejudge the child’s best interests at that future time. The court may, however, establish the expectation that the parties will revisit the schedule, through their own negotiation or mediation if necessary, to ensure that it meets the child’s bests interests in that predictable next stage of a child’s life. The parties’ failure to reach an agreement at that time may be an unanticipated change of circumstances. Therefore, the Supreme Court concluded courts have the discretion to include such a provision, but should do so sparingly and with an articulated rationale. On remand, the trial court was not bound to exercise its discretion to include a provision of the sort described by the father in his appeal. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to specifically address the various proposals in father’s proposed parenting plan. Finally, although the trial court had the discretion to incorporate provisions regarding dispute resolution between mother and father, it was not required to do so. If, on remand, the trial court elected to address the matter, it may do so, but the Supreme Court concluded its silence on this question did not amount to an abuse of discretion. View "Terino v. Bleeks" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michele Boulet appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss her petition for modification of the guardianship of C.H. In 2017, petitioner petitioned for modification of the guardianship of C.H., a developmentally disabled adult who has had a guardian since 2009. C.H.’s first guardian, a member of her immediate family, was removed in 2015 after being substantiated for financial exploitation of C.H. The Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) was subsequently appointed as C.H.’s guardian. Petitioner was a friend of C.H.’s family. Shortly after petitioner filed her petition for modification of guardianship, C.H. moved to dismiss through counsel to dismiss on grounds that petitioner did not have standing to petition the court for modification of C.H.’s guardianship. In October 2017, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, deciding, in accordance with C.H.’s argument, that petitioner lacked standing to petition for modification of the guardianship. The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing on either the petition for modification or the motion to dismiss. Petitioner raised several arguments in favor of reinstating her petition; as one of her arguments resolved this appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court addressed it alone. The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute defining who has standing to petition for a modification of guardianship was inconsistent with the plain language and purpose of Vermont’s guardianship provisions. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of C.H." on Justia Law

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Husband John Warren appealed the trial court’s denial of his and wife Sandra Penland's (Warren) joint motion to modify their final divorce order. The issue in this case was whether the trial court had jurisdiction under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) to modify a property-division order based on the agreement of the parties after the divorce order has become absolute. The Vermont Supreme Court held the court did have jurisdiction, and accordingly reversed and remanded. View "Penland (Warren) v. Warren" on Justia Law

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Defendant Liana Roy was convicted of custodial interference for taking her four-year-old daughter, who was then in Department for Children and Families (DCF) custody, on a two-day trip out of the state without DCF’s permission. After the jury returned its verdict, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal, concluding that, in the absence of a court order specifying defendant’s parent-child contact, defendant was not criminally liable. The central question presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review in this case was whether a parent may be convicted of custodial interference under 13 V.S.A. 2451 for interfering with the custody of the DCF in the absence of a court order specifying the schedule and limitations of the parent’s visitation. The Court held section 2451 did not require such an order and that the evidence of defendant’s knowing and egregious actions in derogation of DCF’s custodial rights supported her conviction. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Vermont v. Roy" on Justia Law

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Father Andrew Bratton appealed the denial of his motion to modify legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities in the parties’ son D.B. Father argued that the court improperly treated the child’s maternal grandfather as a “fictive parent” and gave him too much weight in evaluating the statutory best-interests factors. Notwithstanding a court order, mother Laura Holland (Bratton) did not turn D.B. over to father. In an October 2016 ruling, the court found that mother failed to abide by its orders or purge herself of prior contempts. It issued a separate arrest warrant requiring that mother be brought before the court as soon as she was found. A North Carolina court subsequently issued an order for expedited enforcement of a foreign child custody order, and mother finally turned D.B. over to father on October 18, 2016. In the ensuing months, court records revealed mother treated father’s contact with D.B. as a nuisance, which she would occasionally grant if father begged enough and if it was convenient. When D.B. was with his father, mother sent messages intimating that his home was with her and suggesting that she was trying to “rescue him” from Vermont. The court found little positive to say about mother’s parenting other than that she loved D.B. Grandfather, however, provided mother with a job and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The court found that grandfather was “really D.B.’s fictive parent in North Carolina.” D.B. enjoyed a higher standard of living, better housing, and was engaged in more activities in North Carolina than in Vermont. The court determined that mother engaged in a calculating and knowing attempt to thwart visitation and that D.B. was harmed by her actions. Nonetheless, it concluded that the statutory best-interests factors narrowly favored mother having physical custody of D.B. and “only due to [grandfather]’s presence in D.B.’s life.” While the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's finding that changed circumstances exist, it reversed and remanded its best-interests analysis for additional proceedings: "[t]he court’s belief that mother’s behavior would change was a linchpin of its decision. Because this belief is unsupported by any findings or evidence, and because the court erred in its evaluation of the statutory best-interests factors." View "Bratton v. Holland (Bratton)" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, mother, the noncustodial parent, challenged three successive orders of the family division that restricted and then temporarily suspended her contact with the parties’ sixteen-year-old son. After review of the specific facts of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s restrictions on mother’s contact with the child, but reversed its limitations on her access to the child’s records and communications with school and medical personnel. The Court remanded that issue for further findings and direct the family court to review its order suspending contact within sixty days. View "Weaver v. Weaver" on Justia Law

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At issue for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review was a determination of whether the evidence and findings supported the trial court’s conclusion that a child with significant mental-health issues was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) because she was “without or beyond the control of . . . her parent, guardian, or custodian,” or “CHINS-C.” After review, the Court concluded that a child with significant mental illness who cannot be safely cared for by a parent in the home is not CHINS-C if the parent has effectively exercised parental authority to ensure that the child’s care is properly managed in another setting. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court’s merits determination that M.L. was a child in need of supervision. View "In re M.L." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review concerned whether a trial court could modify parental rights and responsibilities when one parent was relocating if that issue was not expressly raised by motion and the sole motion before the court was the relocating parent’s motion to modify parent-child contact. Katie Churchill (mother) appealed a trial court decision that transferred the right to choose the children’s residence and school from her to Landon Bonk (father) and that reconfigured the parties’ existing contact schedule, reducing her time with her children from approximately 65% to 20%. The Supreme Court held the mother’s motion to modify parent-child contact and father’s motion to dismiss in response did not raise the issue of the parties’ parental rights and responsibilities. Therefore, the trial court abused its discretion by issuing an order modifying parental rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, the Court held that the trial court proceedings supported finding a sufficient change of circumstances to grant mother’s motion to modify parent-child contact. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to set a new parent-child contact schedule. View "Bonk v. Bonk" on Justia Law