In any of these three kinds of court cases, a judge or magistrate will decide who has parental rights and responsibilities. That means they decide who has physical custody, who has legal custody, who will pay child support, and how much the child support will be. The court order will also say when and where your child or children will see the parent that they don’t live with.
Typically parents get divorced when at least one of them knows they do not want to live together any more. In most cases, parents have to be living separate lives for at least six months before a final divorce hearing can be held.
Vermont has a process for legal separation. A legal separation case follows the same process as a divorce case. The main difference is that at the end of a legal separation case the parents are not divorced and can’t marry anyone else. If people with a legal separation want to marry other people, they will have to file for divorce. Sometimes people choose a legal separation for religious reasons.
If parents have never been married, either parent can file a parentage action. The person who files the action will have to identify the biological father of the child. If the person who does not file does not agree, the court might order a DNA test.
What If We Agree About the Children?
Do you and your ex agree about who will have physical and legal responsibility? Do you agree about parent-child contact? The court will probably make your agreement be the court order. But the judge has to agree that your plan is good for your child or children.
What If We Don’t Agree About the Children?
What if you and your ex can’t agree about what should happen with your child or children? The court will decide who gets physical and legal responsibilities. This happens at a “contested hearing.” A contested hearing is a trial in front of a judge. You will have to present evidence to the court about why you should get custody. The evidence is usually testimony from parents, teachers, doctors and other people who know your child, you and the other parent.
The court considers certain factors to make its decision. The most important factor is what the court believes will be best for your child. This is called the “best interests” of your child. “Best interests” is what the judge believes the law and the facts say would be the best for your child. Learn more on our Best Interests of the Child page.
The court may order you to take part in a family court program. These programs are designed to help parents, or the court, decide about the children. These are some of the court programs the court could order:
- home study
- parent coordination
- children’s panel
- visitation masters
- forensic evaluation