Mauldin v. Bearden, ___S.W. 3d___ (Ky. 2009)
PUBLISHED: REVERSING JEFFERSON
OPINION BY JUSTICE NOBLE; ABRAMSON, CUNNINGHAM, SCHRODER, AND VENTERS, JJ., CONCUR; MINTON, C.J., CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY
Paternal Grandparents appealed from CA decision reversing Jefferson Family Court’s (FC’s) order denying Mom’s motion to set aside FC's judgment awarding permanent custody of Daughter to Paternal Grandparents and her motion for visitation, where FC found that it lacked jurisdiction to consider visitation.
At time of Daughter’s birth, Mom and Dad were alcoholics and physically abusive to each other. Mom had been drunk more than once during her pregnancy and while breastfeeding. She had also been arrested for PI and DUI during her pregnancy. Paternal Grandparents filed a petition for temporary and permanent custody and an ex parte emergency motion for temporary custody of Daughter four days after birth of Daughter. Maternal Grandparents supported the motion, providing an Affidavit regarding both Mom’s and Dad’s unfitness to parent. FC entered temporary custody order that day and referred the matter to CFC for investigation. Daughter was immediately taken to Alabama to live with Paternal Grandparents. CFC subsequently filed DNA action a few days later, which was transferred to same division as custody action consistent with principle of “one family, one judge,” which underlies Family Court, though the actions had and continued to have separate case names and numbers. The following day, a hearing was held in which both Mom and Dad appeared drunk and were taken into custody. FC reaffirmed its award of temporary custody to Paternal Grandparents. At a subsequent hearing, Mom and Dad were ordered to participate in a course of rehabilitative treatment and testing and were allowed supervised visitation, though neither ever exercised that right. Neither Mom nor Dad filed a responsive pleading during this time.
Paternal Grandparents filed a motion asking the court to enter a default judgment granting them permanent custody of Daughter. Neither Mom nor Dad appeared at the hearing or filed a response. FC entered a default judgment granting Paternal Grandparents permanent custody. The supervised visitation order from the DNA proceeding remained in effect, but as CFC was taking no further action, there was no termination of parental rights that would have prevented the ordered visitation. Mom and Dad were still living together. Paternal Grandparents then initiated proceedings in Alabama, then the home state of Daughter, to formally adopt Daughter. Daughter had then been living there for nearly a year. Alabama entered temporary decree granting custody to Paternal Grandparents and set a dispositional hearing. Mom participated in the Alabama proceeding through counsel. She then filed a motion with Jefferson Family Court (FC) under case numbers for both custody and DNA actions, but noticed only for DNA docket, asking for custody of Daughter. FC denied her motion as improper on DNA docket.
Mom then filed a motion to set aside the default judgment entered against her and to set a custody hearing, pursuant to CR 60.02(d) and (f). In support of her motion, Mom did not provide a Memorandum but filed affidavits signed by herself, Dad and Maternal Grandparents. Mom's affidavit stated that she believed Dad and Paternal Grandparents had conspired with Dad to prevent her participation; that Dad’s threats of abuse and her lack of access to vehicle or phone prevented her from participating in the permanent custody hearing; and that she otherwise would have defended herself, though she did not provide the basis for her defense. Dad corroborated the abuse and conspiracy. Maternal Grandparents stated that Mom was now capable of having custody of Daughter.
After reviewing rebuttal affidavits and hearing the arguments of counsel, FC denied Mom an evidentiary hearing on the merits of her motion and issued an order finding that Mom failed to allege fraud or other improper conduct by Paternal Grandparents or collusion occurring between Dad and Paternal Grandparents and that Paternal Grandparents had done nothing wrong in their pursuit of custody of Daughter. FC noted that Mom and Dad stipulated in DNA proceeding that Daughter was at risk of neglect due to their alcohol abuse. FC agreed that it had jurisdiction, but that that there was no basis pursuant to CR 60.02 to set aside the judgment granting permanent custody to Paternal Grandparents.
Mom filed a motion for visitation and a motion to alter, amend or vacate its order denying her relief under CR 60.02. FC denied Mom's motion to alter, amend or vacate, declining to exercise jurisdiction and deferring the visitation issue to Alabama as the home state of the child. Mom appealed. CA reversed, vacated and remanded, holding that affidavits submitted by Mom alleged facts that, if true, demonstrated fraud justifying vacation of the judgment, and that FC should hold a full evidentiary hearing with testimony. CA also found that Kentuckyhad continuing jurisdiction under KRS 403.824, but did not address the fact that FC expressly declined jurisdiction.
Did FC properly deny Mom’s CR 60.02 motion without conducting full evidentiary hearing on fraud allegations?
Does FC have continuing exclusive jurisdiction such that it must make decisions regarding visitation?
SC found that given what FC judge had from affidavits, record, and what he knew from case, he had sufficient information to determine facts and judge credibility of parties without taking further testimony. FC was well within its discretion to take allegations on their face, and determine if further proof was necessary, as specificity of fraud allegations would be fleshed out by further testimony but not fundamentally changed. FC judge had already had numerous contacts with parties to judge credibility of the affidavits. Also, as a policy matter, FC’s decision spared family further turmoil from redundant testimony.
SC further found that Mom did not have nor did she allege defense at time of default judgment, as required by CR 60.02, and that although abuse and addiction are factors that are proper for a court to consider, neither standing alone equate to “facts of an extraordinary nature” required to be present under CR 60.02.
SC found that FC did have jurisdiction over actions concerning Daughter because she was born in Kentuckyand had resided here the entire eight days of her life when action was filed.
SC nonetheless noted several procedural errors. Paternal Grandparents filed Petition for custody under KRS 403.828, 403.270, and 405.020. However, none of those statutes were applicable to Paternal Grandparents at that time. KRS 403.270 and KRS 405.020 applied to parents and/or de facto custodians and, since Paternal Grandparents had not had physical custody of nor provided financial support for Daughter for previous 6 months, they were not de facto custodians. KRS 403.828 grants emergency jurisdiction to Kentucky when a child is brought in from another state that has jurisdiction over the child but is not exercising it. As Daughter was resident of Kentucky at the time, this statute did not apply.
SC noted that Paternal Grandparents could have filed a DNA petition under KRS 620.070 and FC could have issued emergency custody order to Paternal Grandparents under KRS 620.060, but that this order would only have been effective for 72 hours and that temporary removal hearing with full notice to both parents would have had to be held during that time. That did not occur in this case. Only when FC “renewed” its temporary custody order and ordered supervised visitation for Mom and Dad in the DNA docket did Paternal Grandparents have full legal custody. FC should not have refused to hear Mom’s motion to modify custody orders just because Mom filed in the DNA action rather than the KRS 403 action. SC opined that “it makes little sense… to continue to treat this subject matter as separate actions, if the purpose of the family court system is ‘one family, one judge,’” and that, “one a legitimate party properly invokes the court’s jurisdiction…continued compartmentalization of the proceedings—before the same judge—works only to disadvantage some litigants without a sound reason for doing so.” SC nonetheless found that these problems did not affect the ultimate outcome, for when Kentucky declined to exercise jurisdiction and deferred to Alabama, proper UCCJEA provisions were followed regarding custody and visitation. Moreover, UCCJEA does not apply to adoption proceedings and FC could make no ruling affecting Alabamaadoption proceeding.