Parentage | Vermont
What is the Vermont Parentage Act?
The Vermont Parentage Act, or VPA, is a new set of state laws that expand the ways someone can legally establish that they are the parent of a child (also known as parentage).
On July 1, 2018, the new Vermont Parentage Act (VPA) went into effect. Through the VPA, the Vermont Legislature rewrote Vermont’s laws on parentage to be modern and reflective of the great diversity of families in Vermont. What this means for children and families in Vermont is that there is greater clarity on who can establish parentage and how to establish parentage. Securing a child’s relationship to their parent(s) is one of the most important components of stability and security for a child.
What does parentage mean?
“Parentage” means that you are a legal parent of a child for all purposes. Parentage comes with a host of rights (e.g., decision-making for medical care or education, parenting time in the event of separation from your child’s other parent) as well as responsibilities (e.g., providing health insurance, providing for basic needs, payment of child support). A secure legal parent-child relationship is core to a child’s long-term stability and well-being.
Why was the VPA passed now?
For years, Vermont courts have called upon the legislature to modernize the state’s parentage laws as they were forced to decide cases without clear statutory guidance. In response, the legislature established a Parentage Study Commission during the 2016-2017 legislative session. The Parentage Study Commission was comprised of a broad array of stakeholders. The Commission studied the existing parentage laws and case law, and it made recommendations about necessary changes. Their work culminated in a report issued in October 2017 which included the proposed legislation that would become the VPA.
Why is it important to establish parentage quickly?
Establishing parentage soon after birth ensures that a child is secured to their parents for all purposes and increases clarity for all involved in a child’s life. For example, established parentage will allow a parent to make any early medical decisions in a child’s life, ensure that a child will receive insurance benefits or inheritance rights, and protect parents’ parental rights if they separate.
How can Vermonters establish parentage under the VPA?
The VPA provides that Vermonters can establish their parentage in the following ways:
- Giving birth (excluding surrogates)
- De facto parentage
- Genetic parentage (excluding donors)
- Assisted reproduction
- Gestational carrier agreement
Who is an intended parent?
An intended parent is a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the child or is an intended parent under a gestational carrier agreement. Ideally, a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent will memorialize that intent in writing, but the law does allow other ways to prove intent to be a parent.
Who is a presumed parent?
A presumed parent is a non-birth parent that the law recognizes because of certain circumstances or relationships. A presumed parent is established as a legal parent through the execution of a valid Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage (VAP), by an adjudication, or as otherwise provided in the VPA.
You are a presumed parent if any of the below are true:
- You are married to the child’s birth parent when the child is born;
- You were married to the child’s birth parent, and the child is born within 300 days of the marriage that was terminated by death, annulment, or divorce;
- You married the child’s birth parent after the child was born, asserted parentage, and are named as a parent on the birth certificate;
- You resided with the child in the same household, and you and another parent held the child out as your child for two years after birth or adoption and assumed personal, financial, or custodial responsibilities for the child.
Who is a de facto parent?
A de facto parent is a parent based on their relationship with the child. Establishing de facto parentage requires a judgment from a court. You can petition a court to establish your de facto parentage by demonstrating, with clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:
- You lived with the child as a regular member of the household for a significant amount of time;
- You consistently took care of the child;
- You took full and permanent responsibility for the child without expectation of financial compensation;
- You held the child out as your child;
- You established a bonded and dependent relationship that is parental in nature;
- You had a parental relationship with the child that was supported by another parent;
- Continuing a relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest.
What is an Acknowledgment of Parentage?
Federal law requires states to provide a simple civil process for acknowledging parentage upon the birth of a child. That simple civil process is the Acknowledgment of Parentage program.
Federal regulations require states to provide an Acknowledgment of Parentage program at hospitals and state birth record agencies. Acknowledgment of Parentage forms themselves are short affidavits in which the person signing affirms that they wish to be established as a legal parent with all of the rights and responsibilities of parentage. The person who gave birth to the child must also sign the form, and both parents have to provide some demographic information about themselves.
By signing an Acknowledgment of Parentage, a person is established as a legal parent, and the child’s birth certificate is issued or amended to reflect that legal parentage. Properly executed, an Acknowledgment of Parentage has the binding force of a court order and should be treated as valid in all states.
How do I establish my parentage through a Vermont Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage (VAP)?
You can voluntarily acknowledge the parentage of a child by signing a form from the Vermont Department of Health known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage” or VAP. A VAP must be signed by the birth parent and the other parent.
If you are the non-birth parent, you can sign a VAP if you are a genetic parent, an intended parent of a child born by assisted reproduction or by a gestational carrier agreement, or a presumed parent of the child.
Signing a VAP form is voluntary, and it can be done at the hospital soon after birth or at another time. A VAP form must be witnessed and signed by at least one other person. If one person does not want to sign this form, then the other parent can try to adjudicate parentage through the courts.
When can I not establish parentage through a VAP?
- A presumed parent who seeks to establish parentage in situations in which the other parent is not the child’s birth parent, e.g., the child was adopted by the other parent, must establish parentage through an adjudication and cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgement of Parentage.
- Parentage cannot be established through an Acknowledgment of Parentage if there is a third person who is a presumed parent, unless that person has filed a Denial of Parentage.
- A person who establishes parentage based on residing with the child and holding out the child as the person’s child for the first two years of the child’s life cannot establish parentage through an Acknowledgment of Parentage until the child is two.
When can a parent sign a VAP?
A VAP can be signed after the birth of a child, up until the child’s 18th birthday. An Acknowledgment of Parentage can also be completed before the child’s birth but will not take effect until the child is born.
How can a VAP be rescinded?
A party who signed the VAP may rescind an acknowledgment of parentage or denial of parentage by:
- Filing a rescission with the Department of Health within 60 days after the effective date of the acknowledgment or denial. The signing of the rescission shall be witnessed and signed by at least one other person.
- Commencing a court proceeding within 60 days after the effective date of the acknowledgment or denial.
- Challenging the acknowledgment or denial within the earlier of 60 days after the effective date of the acknowledgment or denial or within 60 days after the date of the first court hearing in a proceeding in which the signatory is a party to adjudicate an issue relating to the child.
What if I am a non-biological parent? How can I establish myself as a legal parent?
The VPA has many provisions that protect non-biological parents. If you are your child’s presumed parent, or if you are the intended parent of a child born through assisted reproduction or gestational surrogacy, you can establish parentage by signing a VAP.
All parents can establish parentage through a court order. A presumed parent or an intended parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction can seek a judgment declaring the person a parent of the child or do a co-parent or second parent adoption. Some non-biological parents can establish parentage through the VPA’s de facto parent provisions, which require a court to adjudicate the person to be the child’s de facto parent.
How does the VPA help people who conceive through assisted reproduction?
The VPA provides important clarity and protections for children born through assisted reproduction. The VPA confirms that a gamete donor (e.g., sperm or egg donor) is not a parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction. Also, the VPA affirms that a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the resulting child is a legal parent.
What is the difference between joint, second-parent (also known as co-parent), and single-parent adoptions?
A joint adoption is when both partners adopt a child together at the same time. A second-parent adoption is when one partner adopts the other partner’s child. Single-parent adoption is when a single individual adopts a child. All three of these are legal in Vermont.
What is the advantage of doing a second-parent adoption or joint adoption?
Both joint adoptions and second-parent adoptions ensure your child has two legal parents, Both married and unmarried couples can do a joint or second-parent adoption. Adoption allows a non-legal parent to become a legal parent, entitled to make decisions for the child without special authorization. It also permits the adoptive parent to automatically assume custody of the child if their partner dies. Likewise, if the adoptive parent dies, the child will have the right to inherit from that parent even absent a will, and may be able to collect Social Security survivor benefits.
Finally, if the couple separates, adoption ensures that both parents have the right to custody and visitation, and that any disputes will be decided based on what is in the best interests of the child rather than on who is the legal parent.
Do we need to do a second-parent adoption if we are married?
When a child is born into a marriage, Vermont law and the law of all states presume that both spouses are the parents of the child and both names are listed on the child’s birth certificate. However, this is only a presumption and can be challenged in court, so in the past GLAD recommended that married couples do a second-parent adoption to ensure the parentage of the non-biological parent because adoption is a court judgment creating a parent-child relationship and must be respected by other states.
Now Vermont couples have a second way to protect the parentage of the non-biological partner by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage.
If I am a parent who has signed a VAP, do I also need to do a second-parent adoption?
No. A parent who has signed a VAP should not need to do a co-parent adoption to establish parentage. A VAP establishes legal parentage under state law, is the equivalent of a judgment of parentage under state law, and gives you all the rights and duties of a parent. Under federal law, an Acknowledgement of Parentage is the equivalent of a judicial decree of parentage and should be recognized in all states.
Since expanded access to acknowledgments of parentage is an emerging development, some parents might feel more comfortable also completing a second-parent adoption in addition to or instead of a VAP. To understand what is best for your family, individualized legal advice is recommended.
How does the VPA address surrogacy?
The VPA has comprehensive provisions about how to establish parentage through a gestational carrier agreement. All parties to a gestational carrier agreement must have independent counsel throughout the process. This is a brief overview of the law for informational purposes.
Before starting any medical procedures to conceive a child through a carrier process, you must have a written and signed agreement. This agreement is between you, any other intended parents, the person acting as a carrier, and the spouses of any of those parties (if applicable). This agreement will establish that you are the parent(s) of the child and that the carrier and their spouse, if applicable, do not have parental rights or duties. To enter into a gestational carrier agreement, the following must be true:
- All intended parents and the carrier must be at least 21;
- All intended parents and the carrier must have completed a medical evaluation and mental health consultation; and
- The intended parent(s) and the carrier must be represented by separate lawyers for the purposes of the agreement, and the carrier’s attorney must be paid for by the parent(s).
The law requires carrier agreements to incorporate several terms to be valid, such as allowing a surrogate to make their own health and welfare decisions during pregnancy and requiring the parent(s) to pay all related healthcare costs.
What does Vermont law say about traditional or genetic surrogacy?
The VPA only allows traditional or genetic surrogacy if the surrogate is a family member. Someone who is not a family member cannot act in this role. Even with a family member, the law’s requirements for a valid agreement, and all of the other protections of the statute outlined above, apply.
What if I am not married?
The VPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the marital status of the parents or the circumstances of the child’s birth. By not differentiating between parents based on their marital status, the VPA aims to treat all Vermont families equally.
What if I am transgender or non-binary?
The VPA explicitly provides that every child has the same rights as any other child without regard to the gender of the parents or the circumstances of the child’s birth. The VPA, by not including gendered terms such as mother or father, is inclusive of all genders. By not differentiating between parents based on their gender, the VPA aims to treat all Vermont families equally.
Can a child have more than two legal parents?
Yes. Under the VPA, a court may determine that a child has more than two legal parents if the failure to do so would be detrimental to the child. To determine detriment to the child, courts will consider factors such as the age of the child, the nature of the potential parent’s relationship with the child, the harm to the child if the parental relationship is not recognized, the basis for each person’s claim of parentage of the child, and other equitable factors.
What protections are there for survivors of domestic violence so that they are not pressured into establishing legal parentage?
The VPA aims to ensure that the establishment of parentage is fair, clear, efficient, and child-centered. Some legal parentage— such as the non-marital presumption and de facto parentage–can arise by consent. No one should ever be pressured to consent to parentage.
The VPA contains provisions that allow parents to challenge another person’s parentage if the other person claims to be a presumed parent or a de facto parent but satisfies the requirements for parentage through duress, coercion, or threat of harm.
Where can I go if I need help resolving a parentage issue?
As with any family law issue, individualized legal advice is recommended. GLAD Answers can provide information as well as referrals to local practitioners. If you have questions about how to protect your family, contact GLAD Answers by completing the form at GLAD Answers or calling 800.455.4523 (GLAD).
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