Vermont - 1986 Divorce Act A Health Value System
1986 Divorce Act A Health Value System - Kimberley Cheney, Trine Bech

VSA 665 was implemented in 1986 as the basis for Child Custody in Vermont. It was based upon a report issued by Attorney Kimberley B. Cheney (former VT State Attorney General) and VT Attorney Trine C. Bech, entitled “Vermont’s 1986 Divorce Act A Health Value System”. This law would seem to potentially benefit Vermont attorney's substantially from the tremendous conflict this law has created for the past 25 years.

Below is a brief summary of some of its main points, the document itself is available for download above. Note the evolution from equality to inequality and finally to apparent gender discrimination by the end...this document is outdated and leaves Vermont one of 3 states left with such laws, yet it still provides the legal framework for family law in Vermont.

Also of note, not once in this 15 page article do the attorneys even suggest the possibility of children having two primary caregivers!

Page 1, Line 26: “The law's stated purpose is to encourage divorcing parents to maintain the maximum possible contact with their children, unless there is evidence that this would be harmful to either a parent or a child.”

COMMENTS: This sounds very reasonable.

Page 4, Line 10: “When parents cannot agree to divide or share parental rights and responsibilities, the court shall award parental rights and responsibilities primarily or solely to one parent.”

COMMENTS: So much for Page 1, Line 26! What happened to encouraging maximum parental contact with both parents? Note that in VT case law "not agreeing" simply means the primary parent says no.

Page 11, Line 39: “Frequent contact with both parents may not be beneficial where parental conflict is intense.”

COMMENTS: Since VSA 665 stipulates courts must award sole custody to the so-called primary caregiver, this effectively means that if the primary caregiver creates conflict, then not only should they receive total custody, but contact with the child's other parent might best be reduced in order to preserve the all-important primary provider relationship with children! This is perhaps the greatest reason for Vermont's clogged courts. 

Page 12, Line 1: “..research findings suggest that the level of interparental conflict may be more central to the child's post-divorce adjustment than father absence.”

COMMENTS: One might hope that VT law would strive for gender neutrality but this seems to indicate an underlying assumption that fathers are not primary caregivers and therefore not central to a child's well-being.

Page 12, Line 12: “Harm to the child, caused by interparental conflict, is often intricately tied in with harm to a parent caused by long-standing physical and emotional abuse by the other parent. Frequent contacts between children and parents may force the abused former spouse to subject herself to a continuation and perpetuation of the abuse, which is unfair to her and likely to render her less effective as a parent. These are the reasons for the specific exception to the preference of frequent contact between children and parents.”

COMMENTS: Parents, regardless of gender, should be greatly penalized for abuse of any kind.

Page 13, Line 14 “The risk to a child by removal from the primary caretaker is great. Health professionals are particularly concerned with children ages 6 months to at least age 3. Children of these ages have shown the greatest adverse reaction to removal. Even where frequent visitation occurs, the absence of the primary caretaker is experienced by the child as a rejection.”

COMMENTS: It would seem children of any age, from the day they are born, deserve both parents, not one.