H.562 Parentage Bill Report

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Feb 5, 2018 No Comments ›› maxinegrad

adult and child holding handsH.562: An act relating to parentage proceedings is the result of the Parentage Study Committee’s work. This body enacted the Committee last session in response to the Vermont Supreme Court’s repeated request, both through testimony and case law, to provide legislative recommendations to modernize Vermont’s parentage laws in recognition of the changing nature of Vermont families.  

More than thirty years ago, in 1984, the Vermont legislature enacted the “Parentage Proceedings Act”. It has not been updated since. That law was intended to allow the speedy recovery of child support, not to govern the rights of parentage for children born through alternative reproduction technologies, surrogacy, or to same-sex partners.

State law has simply not kept pace with the myriad of ways in which Vermonters become parents.  

Since 1997, the Vermont Supreme Court has grappled with how to address parentage. The court has recognized that parental status can flow from the mutual agreement and action of the parents even in the absence of a marriage or a civil union between the parents or a biological connection between one of the parents and the child. The court has recognized that it is the advancement of reproductive technologies and society’s recognition of lifestyles that have produced families in which a biological and therefore a legal connection is no longer the sole organizing principal.

The court has stated that biology and marriage are not the only indicia of family formation that are worthy of judicial recognition.

Thus, the Supreme Court looked to the General Assembly, stating “Given the complex social and practical ramifications of expanding the classes of persons entitled to assert parental rights… the Legislature is better equipped to deal with the problem. Deference to the Legislature is particularly appropriate in this arena…”

The Court has continued to grapple with similar situations and has noted in numerous opinions that legislative guidance is needed on this issue. The Supreme Court in 2014 stated, “I urge the Legislature to act, and to act with some urgency so that an archaic legal system does not create uncertainty for families and children and inflict real harm on them.”

Subsequently, the Court wrote that the continuing failure to enact a real parentage act is the largest and most significant deficiency in our statutory scheme regulating the rights and responsibilities of family members where the interests of children are involved.

In 2016, another Justice stated that “New legislation concerning parentage would enable the Legislature to identify and communicate its intentions with respect to the various policy issues impacting the best interests of children, would provide clarity for courts struggling with these issues, and would ultimately benefit the children of Vermont.”

Most recently, the Supreme Court stated that “we continue to urge the Legislature to take action and hope that the study commissioned by the legislature leads to the enactment of statutory revision that render this decision and others by this court obsolete. The global perspective, consideration of extensive empirical evidence and public input and accountability of the legislative process are better suited than case-by-case adjudications to developing a coherent law of parental status.”

The House Judiciary Committee with the help of the study committee has taken such action. H.562 gives the courts a process to determine who gets to walk through the courthouse door as a legal parent to then sort out those parental rights and responsibilities. H.562 is modeled after Uniform Parentage Act, which was updated in 2017, and on the Maine Parentage Act, which went into effect on July 1, 2016.

In summary, the bill provides several ways that parentage can be established. One can become a parent by giving birth, adopting, signing a voluntary acknowledgment of parentage, admitting to parentage in a court action, being a de facto parent, a genetic parent, consenting to assisted reproduction or a gestational carrier agreement (also known as surrogacy).

I want to make clear that this bill does not address parental rights and responsibilities, such as who gets custody or visitation.

The vote in committee was 11-0.

Madam Speaker H.562 recognizes our common humanity that parentage is about love, regardless of biology.  I ask the body for its support.