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NO. 162. AN ACT TO CREATE A PERMANENT GUARDIANSHIP FOR MINORS.

(S.291)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. POLICY

The creation of a permanent guardianship for minors will provide the opportunity for a child, whose circumstances make adoption or return to the care of the parents not reasonably possible, to be placed in a stable and nurturing home for the duration of the child’s minority. The creation of permanent guardianship offers the additional benefit of permitting continued contact between a child and the child’s parents. A permanent guardianship would be a last resort only when the options of return to the parents and adoption have been fully explored and ruled out based on clear and convincing evidence.

Sec. 2. 14 V.S.A. chapter 111, subchapter 2, Article 1A is added to read:

Article 1A. Permanent Guardianship for Minors

§ 2661. DEFINITIONS

For the purposes of this article:

(1) “Best interest of the child” means a determination, based on consideration of all relevant factors and available options, of circumstances that will best provide the child with at a minimum all the following:

(A) Adequate food.

(B) Clothing.

(C) Health care.

(D) Any other material needs.

(E) A safe and nurturing environment that meets the child’s present and future developmental needs and promotes appropriate interactions and relationships with family members, foster family and other people who will play a constructive role in the child’s life.

(F) Support to help the child adjust to home, school and community.

(2) “Parent” means the parent or parents of a minor.

(3) “Permanent guardian” means one or two adults appointed by the court to act as a parent for a child during the child’s minority.

(4) “Permanent guardianship” means a legal guardianship of a minor that is intended to continue with the same guardian, based on the guardian’s express commitment, for the duration of the child’s minority.

(5) “Relative” means a grandparent, great grandparent, sibling, first cousin, aunt, uncle, great-aunt, great-uncle, niece, or nephew of a person, whether related to the person by the whole or the half blood, affinity, or adoption. The term does not include a person's stepparent.

§ 2662. PERMANENT GUARDIAN; RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS

(a) A permanent guardian shall have parental rights and responsibilities for the child that include:

(1) Providing the child with:

(A) A healthy and safe living environment and daily care.

(B) Education.

(C) Necessary and appropriate health care, including medical, dental and mental health care.

(2) Making decisions regarding:

(A) Travel.

(B) Management of the child’s income and assets.

(C) The child’s right to marry or enlist in the armed forces.

(D) Representation of the child in legal actions.

(E) Any other matter that involves the child’s welfare and upbringing.

(b) The permanent guardian shall:

(1) Before appointment, expressly commit to remain the permanent guardian and assume the parental rights and responsibilities for the child for the duration of the child’s minority;

(2) Be responsible to the court and the child for the health, education and welfare of the minor.

(3) Comply with all terms of any court order to provide the child’s parent with visitation, contact or information.

§ 2663. PARENT OF THE MINOR; RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS; SUPPORT

(a) While a permanent guardianship is in effect, the parent shall have the following rights:

(1) Visitation, contact and information to the extent delineated in the order issued by the family court. The family court shall issue an order regarding visitation, contact and information based on the best interests of the child. The order may prohibit visitation, contact and information. The order may incorporate an agreement reached among the parties.

(2) Inheritance by and from the child.

(3) Right to consent to adoption of the child.

(b) After the court has issued a final order establishing permanent guardianship, the parent shall have no right to seek termination of the guardianship order. The parent may seek only enforcement or modification of an order of visitation, contact or information.

(c) The parent shall have the primary responsibility to support the child.

(1) In the event the income and assets of the parent qualify the child for governmental benefits, the benefits may be conferred upon the child with payment to be made to the permanent guardian. The provision of necessities by the permanent guardian shall not disqualify the child for any benefit or entitlement.

(2) If the child has been in the custody of the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services immediately prior to the creation of the guardianship, the commissioner shall have no further duty of support or care for the child after the establishment of the permanent guardianship unless the commissioner contractually agrees in writing to that support.

§ 2664. CREATION OF PERMANENT GUARDIANSHIP

(a) The family court may establish a permanent guardianship at a permanency planning hearing or at any other hearing in which a permanent legal disposition of the child can be made, including a child protection proceeding pursuant to 33 V.S.A. § 5528, or a delinquency proceeding pursuant to 33 V.S.A. § 5529. The court shall also issue an order permitting or denying visitation, contact or information with the parent at the same time the order of permanent guardianship is issued. Before issuing an order for permanent guardianship, the court shall find by clear and convincing evidence all of the following:

(1) Neither parent is capable or willing to provide adequate care to the child, requiring that parental rights and responsibilities be awarded to a permanent guardian.

(2) Neither returning the child to the parents nor adoption of the child is reasonably likely during the remainder of the child’s minority.

(3) The child is at least 12 years old unless the proposed permanent guardian is:

(A) a relative; or

(B) the permanent guardian of one of the child’s siblings.

(4) The child has resided with the permanent guardian for at least a year, unless the permanent guardian is a relative with whom the child has a relationship.

(5) A permanent guardianship is in the best interests of the child.

(6) The proposed permanent guardian:

(A) is emotionally, mentally, physically and financially suitable to become the permanent guardian; and

(B) has expressly committed to remain the permanent guardian for the duration of the child’s minority; and

(C) has expressly demonstrated a clear understanding of the financial implications of becoming a permanent guardian including an understanding of any resulting loss of state or federal benefits or other assistance.

(b) The parent may voluntarily consent to the permanent guardianship, and shall demonstrate an understanding of the implications and obligations of the consent.

(c) After the family court issues a final order establishing permanent guardianship, the case shall be transferred to the appropriate probate court in the district in which the permanent guardian resides. Jurisdiction shall continue to lie in the probate court. Appeal of any decision by the probate court shall be de novo to the family court.

§ 2665. REPORTS

The permanent guardian shall file a written report on the status of the child to the probate court annually and at any other time the court may order. The report shall include the following:

(1) The location of the child.

(2) The child’s health and educational status.

(3) A financial accounting of the income, expenditures and assets of the child if the permanent guardian is receiving any state or federal government benefits for the child.

(4) Any other information regarding the child that the probate court may require.

§ 2666. MODIFICATION; TERMINATION

(a) A modification or termination of the permanent guardianship may be requested by the permanent guardian, the child if the child is age 14 or older, or the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services. A modification or termination may also be ordered by the probate court on its own initiative.

(b) Where the permanent guardianship is terminated by the probate court order or the death of the permanent guardian, the custody and guardianship of the child shall not revert to the parent, but to the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services as if the child had been abandoned.

(c) An order for modification or termination of the permanent guardianship shall be based on a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that there has been a substantial change in material circumstances, or that one or more findings required by subsection 2664(a) of this title no longer can be supported by the evidence, and that the proposed modification or termination is in the best interests of the child.

(d) The burden of proof shall be on the party seeking the modification or termination.

(e) In the event that it is necessary to appoint a successor permanent guardian, the parent may be considered with no greater priority than a third party.

§ 2667. ORDER FOR VISITATION, CONTACT OR INFORMATION; IMMEDIATE HARM TO THE MINOR

(a) The probate court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any action to enforce, modify or terminate the initial order issued by the family court for visitation, contact or information.

(b) Upon a showing by affidavit of immediate harm to the child, the probate court may temporarily stay the order of visitation or contact on an ex parte basis until a hearing can be held, or stay the order of permanent guardianship and assign parental rights and responsibilities to the commissioner of social and rehabilitation services.

(c) Nothing in this section shall limit the jurisdiction of the family court to enter an abuse prevention order pursuant to 15 V.S.A. chapter 21. A breach by the permanent guardian of an order for visitation, contact or information shall not be grounds for voiding or terminating the permanent guardianship. However, the court may enforce the order with all the powers and remedies of the court, including contempt.

(d) A modification of an order of visitation or contact shall be based upon a finding by a preponderance of the evidence that there has been a substantial change in the material circumstances, and that the proposed modification is in the best interests of the child.

Sec. 3. SUNSET

Article 1A of subchapter 2 of 14 V.S.A. chapter 111, relating to permanent guardianship for minors, will terminate on June 30, 2003.

Approved: May 29, 2000