It might come as a surprise to many Vermonters, but we are one of the only states left in the country in which judges do NOT have the right to grant joint custody of children in divorce proceedings unless BOTH parents ask for it. As a result, judges are forced to make Solomon-like decisions by awarding full custody to one parent. This policy essentially is a state sanctioned way of marginalizing the non-custodial parent, pushing them into the role of weekend entertainer.
Research shows that children of divorced parents do best when both parents are actively involved in the lives of the children. If we say we want both parents to make the emotional, financial, and time investments required to raise a child right, we cannot perpetuate a legal policy that works so effectively against that goal.
Fortunately, a growing movement, headed by Chris Weinberg of Jericho, is trying to move Vermont forward and encourage our legislature to change this antiquated and destructive policy. There has been some opposition to the proposal, based on the concern that incompetent parents will be given too much access and control. This worry is misguided in my view. To be clear, nobody supporting this legislation is interested in having unfit or abusive continue to influence their children’s lives, and judges would be free to award single custody when that is in the best interests of the child. What would change is that judges would no longer be forced to send a good parent to the sidelines when joint custody would be more appropriate.
You can find out more at JointCustodyVT.org and sign an online petition at Change.com. To make sure this issue gets the attention it deserves in January, we need to convince our legislature that Vermonters want this issue on the agenda in 2014 with no more delays.