This decision has been designated as "Supreme Court of Vermont Appeals Disposed of Without Published Opinion or Memorandum Decision." table in the Atlantic Reporter.
APPEALED FROM: Superior Court, Rutland Unit, Family Division. DOCKET NO. 332-7-13 Rddm. Trial Judge: Cortland Corsones.
Paul L. Reiber, Chief Justice, John A. Dooley, Associate Justice, Marilyn S. Skoglund, Associate Justice.
In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Father appeals from the trial court's decision granting the parties a divorce and awarding mother sole legal and physical rights and responsibilities to the parties' three children. He argues that the court erred in weighing the evidence and in determining a parent-child contact schedule. We affirm.
The court found as follows. The parties married in April 2000 and separated in December 2011. They have three children, born in 2002, 2004, and 2008, respectively. Father is a skilled herdsman with a history of working on and managing farms. At the time of the court's order, father was living in Rutland, Vermont, and he was not employed. Father planned to move to New York with his fiancé e after the divorce. Mother was living in Wisconsin in her fiancé 's mother's house and working as a housekeeper. The children were doing well in Wisconsin, and mother planned to remain there. The children had been receiving counseling for divorce-related issues since mother and father separated.
The court found that father physically and verbally abused mother during the marriage. Father would call mother worthless, stupid, and say that she should die. Father verbally abused mother in front of the children. In the first year of the parties' marriage, father grabbed mother by the throat and pulled her off the ground. He later grabbed her by the hair and pulled her down a hallway. He destroyed personal property. Father was prosecuted and convicted of assault. He was placed on probation and ordered to take anger management classes. He nonetheless continued to physically and verbally abuse mother. Father also had numerous affairs during the marriage.
In December 2011, when the parties were living in Vermont, father again verbally abused mother. Mother went to a shelter and filed a relief-from-abuse order. At the final hearing on her request, mother testified to abuse during the marriage. Father testified as well. He did not necessarily deny mother's allegations but said that mother overstated the frequency of the abuse. When asked if he disagreed with mother's claim that the abuse happened in front of the children, father responded that he did not know because he would " black out" when that happened. The court issued a final relief-from-abuse order, effective December 2011 through December 2012. The order allowed father to have parent-child contact through a supervised visitation center, and the court indicated that it would consider unsupervised visits if father took anger management classes. Father initially said that he was not interested in supervised visitation, but then changed his mind and asked that the visits be set up. Mother did not follow up with the visitation center, however, and the visits were not set up. Father did not push the issue further. After the relief-from-abuse order issued, father completed anger management counseling and a batterer's intervention program. Father testified that he learned a lot from these classes.
In the summer of 2012, mother moved with the children to Minnesota to be closer to her family. She did not notify father of the move. The restraining order was still in effect at this time. Mother then relocated to Wisconsin to be with her fiancé . Sometime after the restraining order expired, mother contacted father about a car-related issue. She told father where she was living and allowed father to speak with the children on the phone. Phone contact occurred between February 2013 and May 2013, and it went well. In May 2013, the parties discussed a divorce. Mother became upset when father did not send her divorce papers, and she cut off father's communication with the children.
In June 2013, father filed for divorce. The court issued a temporary order in January 2014 that found resumption of father's phone contact to be in the children's best interests. The court ordered mother not to interfere with these calls. Mother did interfere, however, and coached the children to say mean things to father. Father could hear someone in the background of his calls telling the children what to say. When no one was coaching the children, the calls went fairly well. Many times, no one would answer the phone at father's appointed call time.
The court found that due to mother's interference, father's relationship with the children had not advanced since it issued its temporary order in January 2014. The court explained that it had experienced mother's interfering behavior first-hand. Mother was testifying at the divorce hearing by phone, and she asked to have the children testify. The court clearly told her no. Mother nonetheless put the children on the phone to tell father and the court that they did not want to have contact with father. This was directly contrary to what the court told mother to do, and mother had directly inserted the young children into the adult proceedings in a traumatizing manner. It also appeared that mother kept the children in the room where she was testifying for at least part of her testimony. The court found that mother was unwilling to shield the children from adult issues.
The court also found that mother had been the children's primary caregiver throughout their lives. She provided most of their care. She tended to the home, cooked for the family, and did the housework. The court found that, overall, mother had done a good job raising the children. Father was often away from the house for days at a time, often without explanation. The court reiterated that father abused mother during the marriage. It did not credit mother's testimony that father also physically abused the children. It did find, however, that father abused mother in the children's presence, which was traumatizing to ...