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= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; ENTRY ORDER
= &n= bsp; &nbs= p; SUPREME COURT DOCKET NO. 2004-266<= /a>
&nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp;  = ; APRIL TERM, 2005
Annette Weaver &nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp;  = ; } = APPEALED FROM:
v. = &n= bsp; &nbs= p; = &n= bsp; } = Franklin Family Court
Donald E. Weaver, II &nb= sp;  = ; &= nbsp; &nb= sp; }
} &nb= sp; DOCKET NO. 298-8-02 Frdm
Trial Judge: Jane Dimotsis
&nbs= p; = &n= bsp; &nbs= p; In the above-entitled cause, the Clerk will enter:
Mother appeals from the family court’s fi= nal divorce order, which awarded primary physical and legal rights and responsibilities over the parties’ two children to father. She argues that the court imprope= rly assessed the factors set forth in 15 V.S.A. § 665(b). We reverse and remand for a new e= videntiary hearing. <= /p>
Mother and father were married in April 1996.
While mother’s appeal was pending, the fa= mily court issued an entry order in August 2004 declining to conduct a de novo review of the court’s earlier custody order. The family court found that the J= une 2004 order contemplated an opportunity to set a long-term parent-child con= tact schedule rather than a reevaluation of its award of parental rights and responsibilities.
We cannot accept this construction of the family court’s initial order, which plainly contemplated a de novo review o= f the court’s custody award after two months. The divorce order stated:
Mr. Weaver will have sole legal and physical responsibility for the twins beginning the day after school ends when he p= icks them up until further order of the court. . . . The case will be reviewed at mid = August to determine how the children are doing.&= nbsp; The idea is to have them remain in New York with parent child conta= ct to be set with their mother for the rest of the year at the August hearing, <= u>after assurance that the children are doing well.
(Emphasis supplied). In essence, the family court was = willing to award custody to father only on a trial basis, but an evaluation of the trial period never occurred.
We conclude that the family court exceeded its authority by issuing a conditional, time-limited, custody order, and we therefore do not address the merits of mother’s arguments on appeal.= The court awarded custody of the children to father for two months, essentially to “see how it goes.” This type of or= der is not authorized by the statutes, and it is at odds with relevant case law.<= span style=3D'mso-spacerun:yes'>
We have confronted a similar situation in sever= al juvenile cases. In In re = B.B., 159 Vt. 584 (1993), for example, the family court issued an initial order reserving its decision on the State’s request to terminate mother= 217;s parental rights, and holding open the record to see if mother would develop parenting skills. At a later hearing, the court terminated mother’s rights. We reversed and remanded after fi= nding that the family court had erred by continuing the disposition hearing for evidence of mother’s future progress. Id. at 589. We reached a similar conclusion i= n In re A.A., 134 Vt. 41, 43 (1975). In that case, we held that the family court had erred by conditioni= ng its final disposition order on a review hearing scheduled several months later. At the later hearing,= the court granted the State’s request to terminate parental rights. We found the court’s proced= ure at odds with the law governing juvenile proceedings. Id. We explained that the law sought,= in the best interests of the child, to insure not only a speedy disposition of the proceedings, but also a final disposition, subject only to specifically enumerated time limitations, and modification procedures, which had not be= en followed in this case. Id= .
Finally, in In re R.B., 152 Vt. 415, 422 (1989), we found a provision in a disposition order, which allowed the reopening of the case, to be invalid.&nbs= p; The disposition order at issue in that case allowed the parties to reopen the court’s order for any reason and at any time after thirty days, and to require a full disposition hearing as if the first hearing and order never existed. We foun= d the order inconsistent with the court’s duty to order a disposition “most suited to the protection and physical, mental and moral welfar= e of the child.” Id. (quoting 33 V.S.A. § 656(a)). As we explained, “[t]he reopening provision meant that the disposition order was only temporary and subject to relitigation at any time. It placed [the juvenil= e] in a state of continuing limbo rather than creating a stable living arrangement= , as the law requires.” = Id.
Like the statutes involved in the juvenile case= s cited above, the family court’s decision to award parental rights and responsibilities turns on the best interests of the child. 15 V.S.A. § 665(b). The statute contains no authoriza= tion for a provisional and time-limited award of parental rights and responsibilities to test whether the order will work properly. As in In re R.B., the court’s order created a legal limbo for the children, as well as for their parents. Rather than f= inally deciding the matter before it, the family court sought to render its final decision at a later date. Mo= reover, the court attempts to allow for modification of the final order, if found appropriate, without meeting the changed circumstances requirement of our statutes. See 15 V.S.A. &sec= t; 668. This decision exceeded = the bounds of the court’s authority.
We cannot determine what the court would have d= one if it had understood that it could not impose the time-limited order that it attempted to impose. Thus, t= he only possibly remedy is to reverse and remand for a new hearing and determinati= on of parental rights and responsibilities.
Reversed and remanded.
BY THE COURT:
John A. Dooley, Associate Justice
Denise R. Johnson, Associate Justice
Frederic W. Allen, Chief Justice (Ret.),