The Kentucky Supreme Court decided Coffman v. Rankin today, a 4 – 3 decision reversing the Court of Appeals and reinstating the trial court change in the primary residence of the parties’ two children, now 13 and 10 years old.
The Opinion of the Court by Chief Justice Lambert, joined by Justices Abramson, Minton and Noble, held that a verified petition to modify custody is sufficient to confer subject matter jurisdiction on the trial court. It ruled that the Court of Appeals, in going on to address the merits of the change in primary residence, inappropriately applied a serious endangerment standard rather than the “best interest” standard. The majority opinion found that the Family Court applied the correct standard and there was no abuse of discretion.
The dissent by Justice Cunningham, joined by Justices Schroeder and Scott, agrees that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction and agreed that the appropriate standard was “best interest” rather than serious endangerment. They dissented, however, because almost all of the fact finding had to do with mental and emotional instability of the children’s stepfather that had occurred five years in the past and which did not affect the minor children. Little of the testimony involved the children, who clearly wanted their mother to remain their primary custodial parent. The dissent passionately argued “To find that this evidence is sufficient to change custody away from a mother, who has had the children all of their lives, will set a precedent that will create justifiable apprehension for all custodial parents throughout the state and will undermine the much needed stability for children of broken homes.” A digest will follow shortly.
The court chose not to use this case as part of a trio on relocation. We have numerous posts on the other relocation cases under submission at the Kentucky Supreme Court, Pennington v. Marcum and Frances v. Frances here, here, here, etc. No decisions will be released in July so it will be at least two months before we hear where we are headed on relocation and possible revisiting of Fenwick v. Fenwick.