Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
Mother Diana LaFlam appealed the denial of her motion to modify physical and legal rights and responsibilities. She argued that her relocation to Florida following a divorce from father Jody LaFlam was an unanticipated circumstance requiring modification of the physical rights and responsibilities of their two children, and that father’s neglect of the children’s health warranted a modification of legal rights and responsibilities. Father cross-appealed the portion of the order finding that his neglect of the children’s health constituted changed circumstances under 15 V.S.A. § 668(a). The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the family division that mother’s relocation was not a change in circumstances as to physical rights and responsibilities, and that father’s conduct was a change in circumstances with respect to legal rights and responsibilities. The Court reversed and remanded as to the trial court's best-interests analysis. View "LaFlam v. LaFlam" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Scott Traudt appealed a family division order granting defendant Victoria Traudt’s motion to enforce a provision in the parties’ 2010 divorce order that required plaintiff to refinance the mortgage on the marital home and pay defendant $25,000. Plaintiff argued that defendant was barred from enforcing the judgment by the eight-year statute of limitations for actions on judgments set forth in 12 V.S.A. § 506. The family division found that the statute of limitations did not apply because plaintiff had acknowledged the debt within the limitations period. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division. View "Traudt v. Traudt" on Justia Law

by
Mother challenged the denial of her request that a child-support order be made retroactive and that she be awarded the arrearage. A magistrate judge found that mother assigned her right to any past-due support to the Office of Child Support (OCS) as a condition of receiving benefits on behalf of her child and that the State waived any arrearages. The family division affirmed. Mother argued on appeal that she did not assign OCS her right to past-due support. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division. View "OCS/Dionne v. Anthony" on Justia Law

by
The State of Vermont appealed a family division’s denial of its request to extend an order placing seventeen-year-old D.K. in the conditional custody of his mother. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the court’s conclusion that it lacked authority to extend a conditional custody order (CCO) for a third six-month period under 33 V.S.A. § 5320a(a), and therefore affirmed. View "In re D.K." on Justia Law

by
The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether a non-resident plaintiff could obtain a relief-from-abuse (RFA) order under Vermont’s Abuse Prevention Act. Mother and father were married in Massachusetts in 2015. Together, they had a daughter, age six, and a son, age five. The family’s relationship had been affected at times by father’s violent behavior and by mother’s substance abuse. Since 2019, father has lived in Dummerston, Vermont, while mother has maintained residency in Massachusetts. The couple remained married. After a November 2017 incident, mother reported father's abuse to police, and he was prosecuted for felony domestic violence. His contact with mother and the children was limited by a Massachusetts court. In June 2018, father sought emergency custody of the children in Massachusetts. He alleged that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had investigated mother for child neglect and that mother had been arraigned on a DUI, second offense, in early July 2018. A Massachusetts court held that despite father’s history of domestic violence, mother’s substance abuse impaired her ability to parent, and awarded custody to father and ordered that mother’s time with the children be restricted to supervised visits. The order also allowed father to move with the children to Vermont. Mother visited the children in Vermont, and on several occasions, father drove the children to Massachusetts to visit mother. When mother and father were getting along, mother had father’s permission to spend the night at his house. Mother’s time with the children was often unsupervised by father. They often spent time with the children together. Between January and April 2021, mother and father reconciled their relationship. By May 2021, this reconciliation had ended. Father told mother she could no longer see the children during unsupervised periods. However, mother still apparently spent considerably more time with the children than the Massachusetts court order allowed. Father subjected the children to corporal punishment and inappropriate outbursts of anger, some of which was witnessed by mother. In August 2021, she filed a complaint for an emergency RFA in Vermont; a Vermont court issued a temporary RFA order the same day. Father moved to dismiss the RFA order, contending that because mother was a resident of Massachusetts, she could not proceed under the Abuse Prevention Act. The family division concluded that mother could obtain both an emergency and final RFA order against father. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division's order. View "Bacigalupo v. Bacigalupo" on Justia Law

by
Father appealed a sanctions order imposed by the family division enjoining him from submitting filings in this case unless the filing was signed by a licensed attorney or he first obtained permission from the court. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court acted within its discretion in sanctioning father given his pattern of filing numerous motions that lacked factual or legal support, failing to adhere to procedural rules, and acting without good faith. The Court concluded, however, that the court’s order was overly broad in scope because it applied to all of father’s submissions to the court in this matter and did not clearly provide father with instructions on how to comply. Therefore, the case was remanded for the trial court to amend its sanctions decision accordingly. View "Fox v. Fox" on Justia Law

by
Mother appealed a family division order modifying legal parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact as to son. The court first issued a parental rights and responsibilities order in 2015, based on the parties’ agreement. In October 2017 father filed emergency motions to modify legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact, alleging that mother was suicidal and unable to care for son. On the same day, the court granted a temporary modification solely on the basis of father’s filings, awarding sole legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities to father pending a hearing to determine whether a longer-term modification would be appropriate. Following a hearing in January 2018, the court ordered the parties to return to the terms of the original 2015 parentage order, pending a final determination on the motions to modify. At the conclusion of merits hearings held in March 2020 and 2021, the family division issued its order dividing legal responsibility for son between the parties, awarding father responsibility for educational matters and mother responsibility for all other matters. Physical parental rights and responsibilities remained shared, but the court modified the parent-child contact schedule so that the parties alternated weeks on Fridays instead of Thursdays and mother would only care for son after school every other week. On appeal, mother argued this order should have been reversed because the court: (1) abused its discretion by dividing legal rights and responsibilities between the parties; (2) impermissibly relied on DCF history; (3) erred in allowing son’s attorney to participate at the merits hearing; and (4) did not make sufficient findings relative to son’s best interests. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vance v. Locke" on Justia Law

by
In dividing the divorcing parties’ assets, a Massachusetts court ordered a special master to sell the Vermont property. After the sale, plaintiff filed an action in a Vermont superior court to rescind the sale and quiet title to the property. Applying the doctrine of comity, the civil division dismissed his action, deferring to the ongoing proceeding in Massachusetts. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the Vermont court should not have dismissed his suit on comity grounds because the Massachusetts court lacked jurisdiction to order the special master to sell the property. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the Vermont court acted within its discretion and affirmed. View "Nijensohn v. Ring" on Justia Law

by
Grandparents appealed the probate division’s dismissal of their petition for guardianship of S.O. They argued that: (1) the court should have held a hearing and addressed the merits of their petition; (2) the Department for Children and Families (DCF) violated their due process rights by moving to dismiss the petition; and (3) if there had been a merits hearing, they would have shown that they were suitable guardians and that a nonconsensual custodial guardianship was in S.O.’s best interests. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Guardianship of S.O." on Justia Law

by
Wife appealed the family division’s May 2021 order granting husband’s motion to permit him to purchase the marital home. Wife argued this was an impermissible modification of the stipulated property division incorporated into the 2017 final divorce order. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with her, and reversed. View "Horgan v. Horgan" on Justia Law