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Vermont Parentage Act FAQ

On July 1, 2018, the new Vermont Parentage Act (VPA) went into effect. Through the VPA, the Vermont Legislature re-wrote 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. Why is this so important? Securing a child’s relationship to their parent is one of the most important components of stability and security for a child.

GLAD’s FAQ about the Vermont Parentage Act provides information and answers about these new protections. And GLAD Answers is available to answer questions and provide legal information about Vermont’s groundbreaking new parentage laws.

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). The bill became law on May 22, 2018, with broad bi-partisan support throughout Vermont, and it goes into effect on July 1, 2018.

Why was it 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.

When does it go into effect?

The VPA will go into effect on July 1, 2018.

What does parentage mean? 

“Parentage” means that you are a legal parent for all purposes. Parentage comes with a host of rights (e.g. parenting time and decision making) as well as duties (e.g. payment of child support, providing health insurance, providing for basic needs).

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)
  • Adoption
  • Acknowledgment
  • Adjudication
  • Presumption
  • De facto parentage
  • Genetic parentage (excluding donors)
  • Assisted reproduction
  • Gestational carrier agreement

How do I voluntarily acknowledge my child?

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 ART or surrogate, 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.

What is a presumed parent?

A presumed parent is a non-birth parent that the law recognizes because of certain circumstances or relationships.

Who can be a presumed parent?

You are a presumed parent if any of the below are true:

  1. You are married to the child’s birth parent when the child is born;
  2. You were married to the child’s birth parent, and the child is born within 300 days of the marriage being terminated by death, annulment, or divorce;
  3. You married the child’s birth parent after the child was born, asserted parentage and are named as a parent on the birth certificate; or
  4. You resided with the child for the first two years of their life, and another parent of the child openly held the child out as your child.

What is a de facto parent?

A de facto parent is a parent recognized by the court because of their relationship with the child. You can establish de facto parentage if you can demonstrate, with clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:

  1. You lived with the child as a regular member of the household for a significant amount of time;
  2. You consistently took care of the child;
  3. You took full and permanent responsibility for the child without expectation of payment;
  4. You held the child out as your child;
  5. You established a bonded and dependent relationship which is parental in nature;
  6. You had a parental relationship with the child that was supported by another parent; and
  7. Continuing a relationship with the child is in the child’s best interest.

If I am a parent who has signed a VAP, do I also need to do a second-parent adoption?

A VAP is the equivalent of a judicial decree, and a VAP establishes legal parentage under state law and gives you all of the rights and duties of a parent. Until LGBTQ parents can sign VAP forms throughout the United States, it is best practice to also complete a co-parent adoption of your child to ensure universal recognition of parentage.

Why is it important to establish parentage quickly?

Establishing parentage quickly ensures that a child is secured to their parents for all purposes and increases clarity for all involved in a child’s life. This is particularly important if a problem with the child or the parents should arise; 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.

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 you child’s presumed parent, or the parent of a child born by ART or gestational carrier agreement, you can establish parentage by signing a VAP. If the child’s other parent does not want to sign a VAP, you can seek a court order establishing parentage. You can also become a parent through the de facto parent provisions of the VPA.

How does the VPA help people conceiving through assisted reproduction?

Vermont never before had statutes addressing assisted reproduction, so the VPA provides important clarity for all involved. The VPA provides that a donor is not a parent of a child conceived through assisted reproduction. Also, a person who consents to assisted reproduction with the intent to be a parent of the resulting child is a legal parent.

Can I use surrogacy to have a child?

Yes. The VPA has comprehensive provisions about how to establish parentage through gestational carrier agreements. 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 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:

  1. All intended parents and the carrier must be at least 21;
  2. All intended parents and the carrier must have completed a medical evaluation and mental health consultation; and
  3. 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.

Can Vermonters use genetic carriers?

Yes. If a carrier is a family member, they can serve as a gestational carrier using their own gametes. Someone who is not a family member cannot be a genetic surrogate. Otherwise, the same laws, including the need for a valid agreement, apply to genetic and non-genetic carriers.

I am worried about domestic violence. What protections are there for survivors 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 arises out of operation of law. Other legal parentage can arise by consent. No one should ever be or feel pressured to consent to parentage. The VPA contains many provisions that allow people to challenge parentage if it was established through duress, coercion, or threat of harm.

Can a child have more than two legal parents?

Yes. A court may determine that a child has more than two parents if the court finds that it is in the child’s best interest. To determine best interests vis a vis parentage, a court must consider factors such as the child’s age, the length and 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 if I am not married?  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 marital status or gender of the parents or the circumstances of their birth. By being marital status and gender neutral, the VPA aims to treat all Vermonters equally.

Where can I go if I need help resolving a parentage issue?

As with any family law issue, legal advice is recommended. GLAD Answers, our legal information line, can provide information and referrals to local practitioners. If you have questions about how to protect your family, contact GLAD Answers at www.GLADAnswers.org or 800.455.GLAD.