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Supreme Court Addresses Concerns about the Family Court Process

In In re A.S. and K.S., Juveniles, 2016 VT 76 (July 8, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family court’s order adjudicating A.S. and K.S. Children In Need of Supervision (CHINS).

Issue: DCF was involved with the family for several years, and the CHINS petition was filed in December 2014. The family court found that A.S. and K.S. were CHINS after evaluating everything that had occurred within the family up until the time that the petition was filed and determining that the mother was unable to protect herself from the father or to provide proper care for the children. On appeal, the mother argued that the trial court erred in not considering post-petition facts and that the CHINS determination should be based on current circumstances, rather than those from 2014.

Holding: Since the mother did not raise her argument in family court, the Supreme Court did not address it on appeal. The Court also noted that not only did she not raise her argument in family court, but she joined the father’s objection when the State tried to admit evidence of events that had occurred after the 2014 filing date. The Court did use this opinion as an opportunity to comment on the state of juvenile cases in Vermont. The Court highlighted the tension between timeliness and process, noting that the increase in the juvenile docket combined with the lack of judges, lawyers, GALs, and courtroom space has led to a sacrifice of timeliness for process. The Court concluded the opinion by stating that the Legislature and other involved parties need to do more to balance the required process with the timely manner requirement.

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