Bratton v. Holland (Bratton)Annotate this Case
Father Andrew Bratton appealed the denial of his motion to modify legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities in the parties’ son D.B. Father argued that the court improperly treated the child’s maternal grandfather as a “fictive parent” and gave him too much weight in evaluating the statutory best-interests factors. Notwithstanding a court order, mother Laura Holland (Bratton) did not turn D.B. over to father. In an October 2016 ruling, the court found that mother failed to abide by its orders or purge herself of prior contempts. It issued a separate arrest warrant requiring that mother be brought before the court as soon as she was found. A North Carolina court subsequently issued an order for expedited enforcement of a foreign child custody order, and mother finally turned D.B. over to father on October 18, 2016. In the ensuing months, court records revealed mother treated father’s contact with D.B. as a nuisance, which she would occasionally grant if father begged enough and if it was convenient. When D.B. was with his father, mother sent messages intimating that his home was with her and suggesting that she was trying to “rescue him” from Vermont. The court found little positive to say about mother’s parenting other than that she loved D.B. Grandfather, however, provided mother with a job and a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The court found that grandfather was “really D.B.’s fictive parent in North Carolina.” D.B. enjoyed a higher standard of living, better housing, and was engaged in more activities in North Carolina than in Vermont. The court determined that mother engaged in a calculating and knowing attempt to thwart visitation and that D.B. was harmed by her actions. Nonetheless, it concluded that the statutory best-interests factors narrowly favored mother having physical custody of D.B. and “only due to [grandfather]’s presence in D.B.’s life.” While the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's finding that changed circumstances exist, it reversed and remanded its best-interests analysis for additional proceedings: "[t]he court’s belief that mother’s behavior would change was a linchpin of its decision. Because this belief is unsupported by any findings or evidence, and because the court erred in its evaluation of the statutory best-interests factors."