In Frazer v. Olson, 2015 VT 84 (June 26, 2015) the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s custody ruling and division of property stemming from a divorce proceeding.
Issue: Mother filed for divorce from Father in 2012. Two children were born during the course of the couple’s marriage. Divorce proceedings, including the division of time spent with the children, were amicable. When the case came before the magistrate, the judge awarded temporary responsibility to the Mother pursuant to the factors listed in 15 V.S.A. § 665(b). At the final hearing before the trail court, the court upheld the magistrate’s ruling that granted the Mother legal custody of the children. However, the court found that certain § 665(b) factors favored the father, including a particularly onerous factual determination that the Father was better able to foster positive relations than the Mother. Despite maintaining legal custody, Mother appealed some of the trial court’s findings of fact under § 665(b) and the division of the property. Mother specifically argued that 4 V.S.A. § 462(a) mandates that the trial court accept all of the magistrate’s finding of fact, and that the court had erroneously found she did not want the family home in the property division.
Holding: The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The opinion held that although a trial court may consider the magistrate’s finding of fact, a magistrate hearing is by its nature temporary and the trial court is by no means bound by it. The Supreme Court also upheld the determination that the mother did not want the family home because she stated in a hearing that she was interested more in equity.