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Supreme Court Affirms Imposition of Sanctions and Denial of Change of Jurisdiction in Parent-Child Contact Dispute

In Kevin Ward v. Renee LaRue, 2016 VT 81 (July 22, 2016), the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s imposition of sanctions on the mother and denial of her request that Vermont hand jurisdiction over to Virginia.

Issue: Mother and father had a daughter in August 2004 and obtained a parentage order in December 2012, under which mother was awarded sole legal and physical rights and responsibilities and father was awarded parent-child contact (PCC). In 2014, mother and daughter moved to Virginia, while father stayed in Vermont. Both parties stipulated to a PCC order, which father had to move to enforce in 2015. Father was unable to get mother to agree to comply with the PCC order, and alleged that she made it difficult for him to obtain information about their daughter’s education. The trial court ordered mother to pay father’s attorney’s fees and denied her request to decline continuing jurisdiction. On appeal, mother argued that the evidence provided did not support the imposition of sanctions and that the trial court erred in denying her jurisdictional request.

Holding: The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision, finding that the evidence did, in fact, support the trial court’s finding that mother failed to comply with the PCC order and did not send father information about their daughter’s school information. Mother also argued that father should have engaged in mediation before filing his motion, but the Court noted that there was no mediation requirement in the 2015 decision at issue. With regard to the motion to change jurisdiction, the Court found that mother did not present evidence in support of her motion and that the trial court did not err in denying it.

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