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Parenting | Custody & Parentage Laws | Vermont

Vermont Custody & Parentage Laws Q&A

Can a single gay individual adopt a child in Vermont?

Yes. Vermont law provides that any person may adopt or be adopted by another person for the purpose of creating the relationship of parent and child between them (15A V.S.A. § 1-102(a)).

Can same-sex partners together adopt a child in Vermont?

Yes. More information on adopting in VT can be found, here.

What are the factors for making custody determinations generally?

Upon divorce or civil union dissolution, a court makes an order concerning parental rights and responsibilities of any minor child of the parties based on the best interests of the child (15 V.S.A. § 667). If the parties make an agreement about custody and visitation, the court will presume that agreement to be in the best interests of the child (15 V.S.A. § 666). If parents cannot agree, the court determines the way that parental rights and responsibilities will be divided or shared between them.  In considering the best interests of the child, the court examines the following factors (15 V.S.A. § 665):

  • the relationship of the child with each parent and each parent’s ability to provide the child with love, affection and guidance;
  • each parent’s ability to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, medical care, other material needs and a safe environment;
  • each parent’s ability to meet the child’s present and future developmental needs;
  • the quality of the child’s adjustment to the child’s present housing, school and community and the potential effect of any change;
  • each parent’s ability to foster a positive relationship and frequent and continuing contact with the other parent;
  • the quality of the child’s relationship with the primary care provider, if appropriate given the child’s age and development;
  • the relationship of the child with any other person who may significantly affect the child;
  • the parents’ ability to communicate, cooperate with each other and make joint decisions concerning the children where parental rights and responsibilities are to be shared or divided; and
  • evidence of abuse, and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationship between the child and the abusing parent.

In addition, the court may not prefer one parent over the other because of the sex of the child, the sex of a parent or the financial resources of a parent (15 V.S.A. § 665).

If I have a child from a former heterosexual relationship, and I am now involved with a same-sex partner, can my “ex” use this against me to deny me custody or visitation of my kids?

Vermont courts base custody arrangements on the best interest of the child. As a general rule, a parent’s sexual orientation or marital status should have no bearing on a child’s best interests.

Nevertheless, your former partner may try to argue that your sexual orientation is detrimental to your child. Any number of reasons can be cited, such as that the LGBT parent’s sexual orientation is causing other people to tease or ostracize the child, that the parent is a bad role model, or that the parent’s new partner is not good for the child. In the overwhelming majority of circumstances, these matters can be answered to the satisfaction of a judge in a way that does not penalize the hay parent or the child. Contact GLAD for further resources for dealing with such a situation.

Does it matter if my “ex” knew I was gay or lesbian or might be before we separated?

It may make a difference with respect to future modification of court orders for custody.  People can seek to modify court orders for custody when there has been a real, substantial and unanticipated change in circumstances that alter the child’s best interests (15 V.S.A. § 668(a)). If a spouse did not know of your sexual orientation at the time of the court proceedings but learns it later, he or she may argue that this is a substantial change of circumstances and that the custody issues should be litigated anew.

Can a court keep my kids from visiting when my partner is present?

The standard for restrictions on visitation, and in all matters, is what is in the best interests of the child with no concern for the adults.  Courts have enormous discretion in visitation matters and certainly have the power to restrict visitation, but unless the partner is causing harm to the child—a very high standard—visitation should not be restricted.

What standards should same-sex couples with children who are breaking up maintain?

Same-sex couples with children who are breaking up should:

1. Support the rights of LGBT parents;

2. Honor existing relationships regardless of legal labels;

3. Honor the children’s existing parental relationships after the break-up;

4. Maintain continuity for the children;

5. Seek a voluntary resolution;

6. Remember that breaking up is hard to do;

7. Investigate allegations of abuse;

8. The absence of agreements or legal relationships should not determine outcome;

9. Treat litigation as a last resort; and

10. Refuse to resort to homophobic/transphobic laws and sentiments.

For more detailed information about these standard see the publication, Protecting Families: Standards for LGBT Families.