CUSTODY (PARENTAL RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES)
Who gets the kids?
This is often the most contentious issue in your divorce or child custody case.
In Vermont, custody is officially called "Parental Rights and Responsibilities." You will probably hear judges and lawyers call it "PR&R" for short. You can, too. You can also just call it custody if you want to.
What does it mean to have Custody?
Parental rights and responsibilities can be confusing. People often talk about "who has custody," but this really doesn't make sense. In most cases, you will have the kids with you some of the time and the other parent will have them some of the time. To make things more confusing, there are two parts of custody, and they may not go to the same parent.
What are the two types of Custody?
There are two parts of parental rights and responsibilities:
(1) Physical Responsibilities - Physical responsibilities means the home where the kids spend most nights.
(2) Legal Responsibilities - Legal responsibilities means who makes the major life decisions for the kids.
I like to tell people to think of parental rights and responsibilities as a “parenting plan.” Because that’s what it is! It’s a plan that you and the other parent come up with (or a judge does if necessary) for who is going to be taking care of the kids, when.
What are some examples of parenting plans?
Shared. If the two of you agree to this, your parenting plan can be as simple as this: shared legal responsibilities and shared physical responsibilities, as determined by the parents. Under this parenting plan, you will have to be able to agree on when the kids will be with each of you and you’ll have to make the big decisions about the kids together. What happens if this stops working at some point? You can go back to court and get it changed – by agreement or by the judge.
50/50. Your parenting plan can be split. You can share legal responsibilities (decision making) and split time with the kids. The schedule can be one week with you, the next week with the other parent. Or it can be three days with you, then four with the other parent; then four days with you, then three with the other parent. Then repeat.
Every other weekend. Another common parenting plan has legal responsibilities and most overnights with one parent, and the other parent spends every other weekend with the kids. This is usually for parents who live a good distance apart, or where one parent works long hours.
There are some cases where parenting plans break down a bit and it gets harder to figure this out.
Parents live far enough apart so that shuttling the kids back and forth is very hard. Maybe the other parent lives in California and the kids would have to take an airplane for visits. Obviously, none of the usual arrangements are going to work in this situation.
There has been physical abuse or serious addiction problems. In cases like this, the parent may have “supervised visitation” only. This means the order is going to say that some named person (a grandparent frequently) must be present during visits or the visits have to take place in a special facility with security present.
A child has significant health problems that make mobility a problem. You’ll have to be creative about this circumstance.
How does a judge decide who gets parental rights and responsibilities?
What decisions are included in legal rights and responsibilities?