Picklesimer v. Mullins, __ S.W.3d. __ (Ky. App. 2008)
2007-CA-000086-ME and 2007-CA-000101-ME
Picklesimer and Mullins were engaged in a 5 year lesbian relationship, during which time they lived together and decided to parent a child together. The parties agreed that Picklesimer would be artificially inseminated. Their child was born in 2005, and their relationship ended in 2006. Before the parties broke up, they entered an agreed order and judgment that established Mullins as a de facto custodian of the child and provided that the parties would share joint custody. The order was entered in a neighboring county to avoid publicity in their own community. The TC entered the order without taking any evidence. No summons was issued, but neither party challenged the lack of notice. After the parties separated in February 2006 and until their relationship disintegrated even further in September 2006, the parties shared equal parenting time with the child.
Picklesimer appealed a TC judgment that awarded joint custody of her minor son to Mullins. Picklesimer argued that the TC lacked jurisdiction and venue to enter custody orders, that Mullins lacked standing, and the TC erred in holding Picklesimer waived her superior right to custody. On cross appeal, Mullins argued that the TC erred in invalidating the agreed judgment of joint custody entered by the two parties.
TC’s jurisdiction and venue to enter custody orders: CA held that Picklesimer had notice of the proceedings since she filed an entry of appearance and never challenged the agreed order establishing Mullins as a de facto custodian. CA also held that venue was waived when both parties filed pleadings with no objection to venue.
Mullins’ standing to pursue joint custody/ Picklesimer’s waiver of her superior right to cusody: A nonparent, who does not qualify as a de facto custodian, may seek custody of a child if the nonparent shows that 1) the parent is unfit by clear and convincing evidence, or 2) the parent has waived his/her superior right to custody. A finding of waiver requires a voluntary and intentional surrender or relinquishment of a known right. A court order granting a nonparent visitation does not constitute a waiver of the parent’s superior right to custody. As Picklesimer did not waive her superior right to custody of the child, Mullins had no standing to pursue custody.
TC error in invalidating the agreed judgment of joint custody: The judgment establishing Mullins as a de facto custodian was entered based on incorrect evidence. Mullins was never the primary caregiver and the primary financial provider for the child, as the statute requires. The pleadings were drafted to convince the TC that a hearing was not necessary on the matter. CA held that the pleadings and conduct constituted a fraud upon the court. The CA found that had the TC held a hearing, the TC would not have signed the order. The judgment declaring Mullins a de facto custodian is invalid.
Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Hoofring v. Fite, ___ S.W.3d ___ (Ky. App. 2008), 2007-CA-001466-ME
The parties, never married, entered into a series of child custody and support agreements. The last agreement in February 2005 provided that Fite have physical custody of the child again. Hoofring was not to pay any child support, but he was to maintain health insurance for the child until the end of 2005. The agreement also released Fite from any liability regarding the child support arrearages she owed to Hoofring.
In 2006 Hoofring insisted that Fite obtain health insurance for the child. Fite then pursued a modification of child support. The TC ordered that Hoofring pay $672.14 per month in child support, retroactive to the February 2005 agreed order, and maintain health insurance for the child. The TC also ordered Fite to pay $5,183.07 in arrearages. Hoofring filed a motion to vacate the order or, in the alternative, hold an evidentiary hearing. In May 2007, after a full evidentiary hearing on all issues, the TC ordered that Hoofring pay $646 per month in child support, retroactive to October 2006, and maintain the child’s health insurance. The TC did not address Fite’s arrearages, but noted that the February 2005 agreed order was an enforceable order. Hoofring appealed.
The COA noted that a party is entitled to modification of child support if he/she can show a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing. KRS 403.213. The child support obligation of $646 per month is clearly a 15% increase over the prior amount of $0. Moreover, while parties may enter agreements regarding child support, the terms are not binding on the trial court under KRS 403.180(2). In addition, KRS 403.180(6) prohibits any attempts to preclude modification of agreements concerning child support, custody, or visitation. Therefore, the TC retained jurisdiction over the child support and is not bound by the parties’ agreement. COA held that TC properly exercised its discretion to modify the child support obligation, while properly enforcing the other provisions of the 2005 agreed order, which release Fite from liability for her past arrearage. AFFIRMED.
THOMAS V. THOMAS
DELINQUENT ENTRY OF DECREE
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING IN PART, REVERSING IN PART, AND REMANDING
PANEL: NOBLE PRESIDING; ABRAMSON, CUNNINGHAM, SCHRODER AND SCOTT CONCUR; LAMBERT, C.J. CONCURS IN RESULT ONLY
Ex-Wife raised 2 claims of error to SC: (1) that CA erred in affirming TC’s decision not to grant a hearing on evidence arising subsequent to DRC’s oral ruling ; and (2) that CA improperly applied the facts and holdings of Dubick v. Dubick, 653 S.W.2d 652 (Ky.App. 1983) to the case.
DRC took the parties’ dissolution action under consideration for final hearing on April 27, 2000. At the hearing's close, DRC issued oral ruling from the bench and directed Ex-Wife's attorney to draft an Order. That Order was never drafted by Ex-Wife's attorney and neither party brought this fact to TC’s attention. No action was taken to finalize the divorce until, four years later, Ex-Wife’s new attorney entered an appearance and requested a new hearing due to the delay and the parties’ changed financial circumstances. DRC recommended that no further hearings be held, and TC affirmed this recommendation. After hearing Exceptions filed by Ex-Wife, TC rendered a decision stating that either party could have requested written findings at an earlier date, but failed to do so.
SC noted that KRS 454.350 mandates a specific duty that DRC shall submit findings and recommendations necessary for an order within 90 days of the hearing. Here, SC found that DRC delivered his ruling orally, but did not follow through to see that it was reduced to writing, the form in which it had to be in order to send it to TC for final adjudication. Ex-Wife argued that the mandatory language of the statute thus voided the oral ruling, and another hearing should have been held. Ex-Wife would then be able to introduce new equitable issues as to the circumstances of the parties, which could result in a different division of the marital property. However, in Dubick this SC stated that even if there is a violation of KRS 454.350, any resulting late judgment or report is not void because of tardiness. SC found that the main difference between this case and Dubick is the amount of time that lapsed between the decision and the entry of the order and that the four years that passed in this case is a substantially longer period of time. Nonetheless, SC held that if the KY legislature had intended the judgment to be void when rendered more than ninety days after the hearing of the cause, it would be contained in the statute. Ex-Wife suffered no actual damage as she will receive whatever assets under DRC's findings she would have received four years ago, and she knew what those assets and debts would be due to the oral findings given at the original hearing in 2000. SC noted that allowing a new hearing in this case could encourage parties to purposely delay submitting orders, hoping they could force another hearing (and possibly a better result) at a later time.
SC noted that an attorney who is instructed by TC to draft and submit an order, and who fails to do so, may be charged with violating SCR 3 .130-1.3, requiring the attorney’s due diligence. Finally, SC stated that Ex-Wife also had another remedy for the delay that she did not uses—seeking a mandate of TC or else ask that the order of reference be set aside. TC’s order affirmed.
Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
SKINNER V. SKINNER
CHILD CUSTODY JURISDICTION
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING IN PART, REVERSING IN PART, AND REMANDING
PANEL: STUMBO PRESIDING; ACREE, GRAVES CONCUR
Dad appealed from TC’s order sustaining Mom’s motion asking TC to take jurisdiction of child custody matters stemming from a prior dissolution of marriage proceeding in Tennessee. Dad maintained that TC improperly assumed jurisdiction, improperly based its findings on facts not in the record, and erred in failing to maintain a record of its communications with the Tennessee court.
Dad and Mom were divorced in 1998 by TC in the state of Tennessee (“TN TC”). Mom received custody of the parties’ minor child, with Dad being granted visitation. In 1999, Mom and Child moved to KY and established residency. In 2003, Dad filed a motion to for Mom to show cause why she should not be held in contempt for her failure to permit Dad to exercise visitation with Child. In 2004, on the same day that Dad’s TN attorney was granted leave to withdraw in TN case, Mom filed a petition in KY TC to alter visitation schedule. Dad moved to dismiss KY motion for lack of jurisdiction which was subsequently denied for Dad’s failure to prosecute, but TN TC issued order setting a trial date for all pending issues and the order was mailed to Mom’s last known address. DRC conferred with TN TC on the jurisdictional issue. TN TC opined to DRC that jurisdiction should remain with TN TC. KY DRC found that Mom’s KY action, having been filed the same day that Dad’s TN attorney was granted leave to withdraw, represented Mom’s attempt to change jurisdictions, and that as Dad initially sought to enforce the existing TN Order in 2003, Kentucky could not exercise jurisdiction as a TN action was pending. Mom filed exceptions to KY DRC order. KY TC’s order (rendered in 2004) acknowledged that TN retained jurisdiction over a related contempt proceeding, but held that KY had jurisdiction over Child because Child resided in KY since 1999. In 2006, Dad moved KY TC to decline jurisdiction over Child and give full faith and credit to TN TC’s orders. Mom then sought an emergency order from KY TC to suspend visitation based on Child’s allegation that Dad tried to touch her inappropriately. KY TC then rendered an order declining jurisdiction as to the modification of visitation and giving full faith and credit to TN child custody orders, which Mom moved to alter, amend or vacate. KY TC then ruled that the UCCJA and KRS Chapter 403 operated to vest KY with jurisdiction over child custody and visitation matters, finding that KY was Child’s home state and that it was in Child’s best interest for KY to exercise jurisdiction. KY TC also determined that Dad had sexually abused the child, stating that “[t]his court cannot in good conscience place a child in the custody of a person who has been abusive to the same child. Therefore without question this court should assume jurisdiction of the child under this section.”
Dad moved for KY TC to disclose its record of communications with TN TC. KY TC overruled Dad’s motion for disclosures due to the fact that no record of communication between KY TC and TN TC existed. Dad then filed this appeal.
Dad contended that KRS 403.420 (now supplanted by KRS 403.822) allows for jurisdiction to be determined based either upon whether KY is the child’s home state, or whether another state has continued to maintain jurisdiction in the matter, arguing that TN continued to maintain jurisdiction over the action, and that KY TC so acknowledged in 2006, when it stated that TN would have jurisdiction of modification and child custody orders in the case. Dad argued that by reversing this order with the entry of a new order, KY TC placed itself in the position of a review court by attempting to reassert jurisdiction over an issue which it had previously ruled that it did not maintain. CA found no error. Because Mom’s petition to alter visitation was filed before the enactment of KRS 403.822 and KRS 403.826, the law in effect at the time of filing, KRS 403.420 is controlling. KY had jurisdiction to adjudicate Mom’s petition since Child resided with Mom in KY for at least six months prior to the filing of the petition, which is one of the scenarios allowing KY to have jurisdiction per KRS 403.420.
Dad also argued that KY TC erred when it rendered 2006 order based on facts not found in the record, in which KY TC acknowledged relying upon written letters from counselors addressing the child abuse allegation, and that KY TC improperly failed to maintain a record of its communication with TN TC as required by statute, thus preventing him from defending, explaining or rebutting any information contained therein. CA agreed. Given the parties’ right to have the matter adjudicated from the evidence of record, as well as their statutory entitlement to examine a record of KY TC’s communication with TN TC, CA found that KY TC clearly erred by impairing or eliminating Dad’s ability to examine and rebut the evidence relied upon. CA affirmed KY TC’s order as to that portion reflecting KY TC assuming jurisdiction based on its finding that KY is Child’s home state, but reversed and remanded as to that portion of the Order addressing matters not contained in the circuit court record.
Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates.
Doerr v. Doerr, __ S.W.3d. __ (Ky. App. 2008), 2006-CA-000739-MR
The parties were divorced in 1990 and the divorce decree contained a provision regarding the husband’s retirement benefits. In 2005, when the husband retired from the Louisville AFSS Department of Transportation FAA, he noticed that his ex-wife was receiving more than her intended share of the benefits. In order to correct the error, since the settlement agreement failed to adequately address the issue, he filed a motion with the TC to modify the decree. The TC denied the motion finding that it lacked appropriate jurisdiction and recommended that the husband seek relief in federal court. COA found that the TC does have proper jurisdiction under 5 CFR § 838.101 (a), which specifically states that state courts have the authority to resolve disagreements concerning validity or provisions of any court order. Reversed and remanded.
Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Com. v. C.M., __ S.W.3d __ (Ky. App. 2008), 2007-CA-001468-ME
The Cabinet acquired custody of C.M. as a dependent minor. Upon reaching the age of majority, C.M. requested continued commitment to the Cabinet until age 21, for the purpose of facilitating her education at Northern Kentucky University. The Cabinet consented and the Court approved the extension. C.M. then dropped out of her classes and the Cabinet asked her to rescind her commitment. C.M., after speaking with her GAL, then changed her mind about dropping out of school and moved for reinstatement of her commitment. At a hearing on the motion, the TC found that the continued commitment was in C.M.’s best interests. COA held that the TC’s order of education controls until it is modified or vacated and recommended that the Cabinet file such motion if it desired to change the Court’s order. COA found no error in the TC reinstating C.M.’s commitment to the Cabinet, which was merely suspended, not vacated, by the Cabinet’s procedure of issuing a letter of intent to release C.M. from commitment. Affirmed.
Of the Court of Appeals decisions designated to be published today, one is a jurisdiciton dispute involving a child, Skinner v. Skinner. The link to Commonwealth v. C.M. is broken and the COA case info for 2007 CA 1468 shows nothing, either. Maybe it is sealed and it may not be a family law case. Digest(s) to follow.
UPDATE: The link to Commonwealth v. C.M., a child, et al is fixed. It concerns committment of an adult child to the Cabinet for educational purposes and will be digested soon.
Hoppe v. Tallent, __ S.W.3d __ (Ky. App. 2008), 2007-CA-000104-MR
Father appealed the TC’s denial of his motion for immediate reinstatement of visitation with his daughter, K.H.
During the parties’ divorce settlement negotiations in 1997, the mother alleged that the father sexually abused K.H. The record is silent as to the nature of the allegations and whether the allegations were substantiated. The separation agreement granted joint custody to the parties, with the mother being appointed primary residential custodian. The father then had visitation with K.H. every other weekend and two hours on every other Wednesday until 2004.
Without the father’s knowledge, the mother had K.H. see therapists, the Sensings, in 1998. The Sensings noted that K.H. may have been traumatized by a male. They did not observe any obvious signs of sexual abuse, but could not rule out the possibility. Their recommendation was for K.H. to continue visitation with her father, but suggested that a female relative be present and that the visits increase as K.H. grew more comfortable with her father.
In 2003 the mother alleged that K.H. became anxious before visits with her father. Her pediatrician found no physical explanation for the anxiety. In 2004, Sally Sensing met with K.H. again. K.H., eight years old at this time, told the therapist that her father made her uncomfortable and she became physically ill before each visit. K.H. also alleged that her father embarrassed her, slept in bed with her, and took pictures of her naked in the shower (court noted that child was standing in the shower behind the curtain, modeling a shower cap, with a wide smile on her face), washed her inappropriately during baths, would drink and drive with her in the car, and left her in the car alone for 25 minutes while he shopped for a television. Sensing recommended that the visitation continue, but with professional supervision until the causes of K.H.’s anxiety could be fully assessed. Sensing did not report any abuse to authorities.
That same month, the mother motioned for the court to suspend or alter the father’s visitation. The father objected, and the mother stopped the visitation on her own. As a result, the father asked that the mother he held in contempt of court.
The DRC held a hearing in February 2004. After hearing testimony from the Sensings, Dr. Fane, a clinical psychologist who evaluated the father, both parties, maternal and paternal grandmothers, K.H.’s teacher, and the father’s ex-wife, the DRC recommended that visitation be suspended until the mother, father, and K.H. could be evaluated by one professional.
The evaluation by Feinberg & Associates revealed assets and deficits in the parenting of both parties. No allegations of sexual abuse were revealed, and Feinberg recommended that the visitation resume. As a result the TC ordered both parents and K.H. to begin counseling with Ruth Sutton, another therapist. When K.H. learned that she was to see Sutton to facilitate visitation with her father she became upset and claimed that her father had sexually abused her. Sutton reported the allegations of abuse to authorities.
K.H. told the CPS worker, Guffy, of the incidents of sexual abuse. The mother confirmed to Guffy that K.H. had told her of the incidents. The maternal grandparents also confirmed that K.H. had told them of incidents of abuse by her father. Since the father was living in Tennessee and that is where the abuse allegedly took place, Guffy filed a report with the police in TN.
In December of 2004, K.H. underwent a medical exam, however during the exam neither K.H. or her mother alleged that any inappropriate physical contact had occurred. The results of the exam revealed no abnormalities, but could not rule out the possibility of abuse.
Sutton continued to see K.H. until January 2006. The father had not heard from Sutton by December 2004, so he moved the court to reinstate visitation. The court set a hearing for January 2005, and planned on interviewing the child. In January 2005, the TN authorities wrote the TC a letter informing the judge of their open investigation and stated that if the father was granted access to the child, the authorities would take the child into state custody. The TC cancelled the interview of the child as to not become a witness in the TN criminal investigation. The record is silent as to whether criminal charges were ever filed or pursued against the father in KY or TN.
In December 2006, a hearing was held at which the father testified and denied the abuse allegations. Sutton also testified. She stated that she believed K.H. and adamantly opposed any contact between K.H. and her father. The TC concluded that it was not in K.H.’s best interests to see her father, since it would endanger her physical, mental, and emotional health.
COA affirmed. TC’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and did not abuse its discretion. However, COA noted that six mental health professionals reviewed the case, and only one of them, Sutton, testified at the hearing. Sutton, who stumbled on cross-examination regarding her own qualifications, was the only one of the six that thought visitation should be stopped. COA also noted that its opinion does not prohibit the father from pursuing future visitation with his daughter.
By Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Published in Louisville Bar Briefs, March 2008, Volume 08, No. 3
Your client asks you, “What does it mean to be a primary residential custodian? What effect does it have? After our divorce is final, can my spouse move and take my children away?”
Good questions. Unfortunately, the family law attorney has been unable, in recent years, to give a satisfactory answer, as the law on parental relocation in Kentucky seems to be forever in a state of flux. However, the odds of having concrete answers to those questions by the end of the year have improved on both the legislative and judiciary front, for legislation has been introduced to Kentucky’s House of Representatives that would provide family courts with much-needed guidance to resolve parental relocation disputes; and the Kentucky Supreme Court recently accepted discretionary review of three parental relocation cases: Pennington v. Marcum, 2006 WL 2194903 (Ky. App. 2006); Frances v. Frances, 2006 WL 3759659 (Ky. App. 2006); and Rankin v. Coffman, 2007 WL 1229022 (Ky. App. 2007).
Within four years of separation and divorce, about one fourth of mothers with custody move to a new location. Whether caused by a high divorce rate, remarriages, shifting job market, an increase of joint custody arrangements or simply the mobility of our society, more and more cases are presented to courts regarding relocation of children. It is probable that the number of cases litigated on this issue would decrease if there was clear statutory or case law on the subject, so that the family law attorney can properly advise her client. Relocation disputes pose great dilemmas for family courts. In a case where both parties are acting in good faith, the court must balance the relocating parent’s understandable desire of seeking a better life by moving away with her child against the non-relocating parent’s understandable desire to maintain frequent and continuing contact with his minor child.
Most state legislatures have addressed the issue, but ours has not. In the absence of legislation requiring notice and determining the factors to be considered when a parent desires to relocate a child, courts are struggling. In 2006, in Robinson v. Robinson, the Kentucky Court of Appeals noted that the arrival of the 21st century brought “an accelerated evolution” in child custody relocation litigation. The court then went on to lament the absence of legislation addressing the issue: “Unfortunately, despite Kentucky’s recent legislative efforts, Chapter 403 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes fails to specifically address the special problem faced by our courts when custodial parents desire to relocate with their children subsequent to divorce… [U]ntil our legislature aligns with the majority of states [with relocation statutes], we are compelled to address relocation/custody issues by applying the general custodial modification statutes, KRS 403.340 and KRS 403.350.”
In 1998, in recognition of the issue and dilemmas faced by the courts, the General Assembly passed a bill establishing a task force to study custody and visitation in Kentucky and to submit findings to the Legislative Research Commission. That report was submitted January 6, 2000 and included recommendations regarding the relocation of children as well as a bill draft. Sadly, no legislation regarding child relocation was passed.
In 2008, the relocation issue may finally be addressed by our statutes. House Bill 383 has been introduced this session in the Kentucky Legislature and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee. House Bill 383 would add a new section to KRS Chapter 403 that would provide a framework to family courts for proper adjudication of parental relocation disputes. A parent who provides the principal residence for a child will be required to provide notice of his or her proposed relocation and a proposed revised parenting time schedule to any other person with custody or visitation rights. Furthermore, if the parent who does not provide the child’s principal residence intends to move, he or she will also be required to notify the parent who provides the child’s principal residence of his or her intent to relocate as well as a proposed revised parenting time schedule. In both instances, notice must be provided no less than sixty days prior to the planned relocation, unless the parent does not become aware of the need for the move during that time frame, in which case he or she will have ten days from the date the information was received. The non-relocating parent will have thirty days after receiving the notice to object to the move, or the move will be permitted. Failure to provide notice can be considered by the court in its determinations regarding relocation or change of custody or visitation, as well as a basis for ordering the return of the child, an award of attorney’s fees to the non-relocating parent, or a finding of contempt against the relocating parent. The court may grant temporary orders allowing or disallowing the relocation. The court is to determine whether the relocation of the child should take place in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court would be prohibited from considering the relocating parent’s intention that he or she will not relocate if the relocation is denied. Lastly, the relocating parent will have the burden of proof that the proposed relocation is made in good faith and in the best interests of the child. The court may sanction either party if it finds that the party’s proposal or objection was made to harass the other party or delay the proceedings or was unsupported by the law or the evidence.
Should this legislation not pass, though that would truly be to the detriment of the courts, there is still hope for clarification of relocation law in the guise of the above-mentioned Kentucky Supreme Court cases. Our last Kentucky Supreme Court case on the issue, Fenwick v. Fenwick, left many Kentucky family law attorneys shaking their heads, as the Court declared that “a custodial parent’s decision to relocate with the children is presumptively permissible, and a custodial parent may relocate with the children without prior approval or modification of the joint custody award.” The Court further declared that “a non-primary residential custodian parent who objects to the relocation can only prevent the relocation by being named the sole or primary residential custodian, and to accomplish this designation would require a modification of the prior custody award.” At the time, this meant that he or she must show that “the child’s present environment seriously endangers his physical, mental, moral, or emotional health, and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by its advantages.” The custodial modification statutes have since been amended, but the Court of Appeals stated in Robinson that “The Supreme Court’s holding in Fenwick remains sound law under KRS 403.340(2) where the modification is sought within two (2) years of the original award of permanent custody.”
In Fenwick, the Court provided that it was following the trend of allowing the residential parent to move away with the child, if the move is made in good faith and a satisfactory revised parenting schedule can be achieved, based on “a prioritizing of the ‘new family unit’ constituted by the post-divorce relationship between the primary care-taker parent and the child.” Since that time, new evidence has been obtained to suggest that this is not the right approach. A new study suggests that, as compared with divorced families in which neither parent moved, students from families in which one parent moved had weaker relationships with their parents, as a whole, and fared worse overall as adults than their counterparts. While this should not suggest that relocation is not in a child’s best interests in every case, it will hopefully influence the Kentucky Supreme Court’s upcoming relocation decisions so that there is no longer a preference for the primary residential parent to be able to move with the child.
1. Sanford L. Braver et al., Relocation of Children After Divorce and Children’s Best Interests: New Evidence and Legal Considerations, 17 J. Family Psychology 206, 206 (2003).
2. 211 S.W.3d 63, 67-68 (Ky. App. 2006).
3. 114 S.W.3d 767, 785 (Ky. 2003).
4. Id. at 786.
6. Robinson, 211 S.W.3d at 71.
7. Fenwick, 114 S.W.3d at 789.
8. Braver, supra at 214.
ALLISON V. ALLISON
DIVORCE: MARITAL/NONMARITAL CHARACTERIZATION OF PROPERTY AND DEBTS; ATTORNEY FEES
PUBLISHED: AFFIRMING IN PART AND VACATING IN PART AND REMANDING
PANEL: BUCKINGHAM, PRESIDING; THOMPSON AND HENRY CONCUR
DATE RENDERED: 02/15/2008
Ex-Husband appealed from TC’s orders relating to marital/nonmarital nature of his family's business, the marital/nonmarital nature of a $66,714 debt allegedly owed by Ex-Wife to her mother, and the award of attorney and expert witness fees.
Ex-Husband and Ex-Wife were married on September 5, 1986. In the early 1970's, Ex-Husband's mother and father acquired all stock in an office-supply business. Ex-Husband owned all shares of stock in the business at the time of trial, which he claimed to be his nonmarital property. He claimed that prior to the marriage he entered into an agreement that gave him an 8% interest in the business in exchange for a promissory note from him for $32,000. Ex-Husband never paid the note, and TC found that his father had forgiven the debt. Ex-Husband contended that he owned this portion of the outstanding business shares as his nonmarital property because the forgiveness of the debt constituted a gift to him. Alternatively, he contended that this ownership interest is his nonmarital property because he acquired it before marriage.
As to the remaining shares of corporate stock, during the marriage, there was a stock redemption agreement between Ex-Husband's parents and the corporation whereby the parents sold their 84,800 shares of stock to the corporation for a sum that was paid to them over a ten-year period by corporate earnings. Ex-Husband claimed that these shares were also his parents' gift to him and that he never paid any money, from marital funds or otherwise, for the stock.
Ex-Husband ultimately argued to CA that he had at least an 8% nonmarital interest in the business due to the forgiveness of the payment for the stock by his father, citing KRS 403.190(2)(a) which expressly excludes property acquired by gift from the definition of “marital property” unless “there are significant activities of either spouse which contributed to the increase in value of said property and the income earned therefrom.” Alternatively, Ex-Husband stated that the 8% interest is nonmarital because it was acquired before marriage.
CA provided that if Ex-Husband acquired his ownership interest in exchange for the note, and that indebtedness was later forgiven, then the forgiveness of the indebtedness would be a gift to Ex-Husband and would constitute a nonmarital interest in the corporation. CA thus vacated TC’s determination that Ex-Husband did not have a nonmarital interest in the corporation and remanded the matter for TC to determine the extent of Ex-Husband's interest prior to the redemption agreement and whether such interest was marital or was proven by Ex-Husband to be nonmarital as a result of a gift or nonmarital as having been acquired before marriage.
CA further noted that if, on remand, TC determined that Ex-Husband's interest prior to the redemption was marital, then any increase in ownership interest because of the redemption agreement was also necessarily marital. If TC determined that Ex-Husband's interest prior to the redemption was nonmarital, then it must determine whether any increase in value was marital or nonmarital. CA noted that, in this regard, the case was one of first impression in Kentucky.
CA recognized that under the “source of funds” rule used by Kentucky courts to determine whether property is marital or nonmarital, property is considered to be acquired as it is paid for; thus, the shares of stock sold to the corporation in the stock redemption agreement were not “acquired”, within the meaning of KRS 403.190 and the determination of marital/nonmarital interest, until they were paid for. CA found that these shares were paid for during the marriage over a period of years by corporate earnings and therefore were “acquired” during the marriage and are presumed to be marital property. Ex-Husband attempted to avoid the presumption by arguing that he exchanged his 8% interest for a 100% interest when the stock redemption occurred. CA agreed with Ex-Husband that the value of his ownership interest did not increase at the time of the stock redemption because while the percentage of ownership interest increased, the value of the corporation decreased because of the debt liability created to pay Ex-Husband's parents for their shares. However, although Ex-Husband's ownership interest at the time of the redemption of his parents' shares increased, the value of Ex-Husband's shares did not. Rather, the value of Ex-Husband's shares increased during the marriage as the corporation gradually paid the debt to Ex-Husband's parents. CA provided that if Ex-Husband had a nonmarital interest in the corporation at the time of marriage, the value of that interest likely increased in time as the years passed and the corporation paid off the debt owed to Ex-Husband's parents. CA held that to the extent the increase was due to Ex-Husband's efforts as the primary operator of the business and Ex-Wife's efforts as homemaker, it was marital property. However, to the extent the increase in value was due to general economic conditions, the increase was not marital property.
Ex-Husband's second argument was that TC erred in finding that checks from Ex-Wife's mother written to Ex-Wife after she and Ex-Husband separated constituted a marital debt. After the parties separated, Ex-Wife was awarded $2,000 per month for temporary maintenance and $1,000 for child support. Thereafter, as power of attorney for her mother, Ex-Wife wrote checks totaling $66,714 on her mother's checking account. Some of the checks were written before the maintenance and child support awards to Ex-Wife, and some were written after the awards. Of this amount, $27,300 in checks apparently were written to Ex-Wife herself for cash. Ex-Wife claimed that all the checks were loans from her mother that were needed because she could not meet her living expenses despite her maintenance award of $3,000 per month. She claimed that much of the money went for home maintenance and repair and that the remainder went for living expenses for her and her daughter. Ex-Husband was not aware of the alleged loans, and he argued that the checks were likely to be gifts from Ex-Wife's mother and that Ex-Wife's testimony that the checks were loans and the notations of “loan” on some of the checks were insufficient to prove the existence of a loan. Ex-Wife testified as to the nature of the debts and had documentation in the form of checks from her mother that supported her testimony that there was actually a loan. TC accepted Ex-Wife's claim of indebtedness to her mother based on her testimony and copies of the checks and CA concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support the determination that the checks represented loans, not gifts. However, CA held that to the extent that Ex-Wife may have used loan proceeds for her personal expenses and expenses for her child after being awarded temporary maintenance and child support, those debts should be held to be Ex-Wife's personal debts. To do otherwise would be to increase Ex-Husband's temporary maintenance and child support obligations during that period of time.
Ex-Husband's third and final argument was that TC erred in ordering him to pay 25% of Ex-Wife's attorney fees and expert witness fees because there was not an imbalance in the financial resources of the parties. Ex-husband stated that the marital property was equalized but that the majority of his assigned marital property ($1.2 million) was the family business. Ex-Wife asserted that while Ex-Husband had a salary of over $100,000 per year, as well as potentially more due to retained corporate earnings not paid by the corporation, she was 55 years old at the time, had been out of the work force for 10 years, and had only a high school education, so although the marital property was divided equally, the financial resources of the parties were not balanced due to these additional facts. Ex-Husband also correctly stated that TC made no specific finding that there was an imbalance in the financial resources of the party, but that it appeared to base its award on Ex-Husband's obstructive tactics in failing to comply with discovery requests and orders of the court. Also, Ex-Husband argued that attorney fees may be awarded pursuant to KRS 403.220 only when there is an imbalance in the parties’ financial resources, even though attorney fees may be warranted otherwise under CR 37.01 due to obstruction tactics. CA found that it was not entirely clear whether TC based its award of attorney fees under KRS 403.220 on the financial resources of the parties as well as Ex-Husband's obstructive tactics. CA found that while TC did not specifically address the parties' financial resources prior to making the award, it did cite the statute, which requires the court to consider such resources. CA held that, in light of Ex-Husband's failure to seek a more specific finding from the court, and in light of the fact that a finding of disparity in the parties' financial resources due to the parties' respective incomes was supported by the evidence, TC did not abuse its discretion in awarding Ex-Wife 25% of her attorney fees and expert witness fees.
As digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
BAKER V. COMBS
CUSTODY: DE FACTO CUSTODIAN
PUBLISHED: VACATING AND REMANDING
PANEL: KELLER, PRESIDING; THOMPSON AND WINE CONCUR
DATE RENDERED: 02/29/2008
Mother appealed from TC’s order denying her motion for custody of her natural child and awarding continued permanent custody to Paternal Grandmother and Step-Grandfather (“Paternal Grandparents”). Mother and Father were never married, and Father never participated in the action or otherwise sought custody of Child. Mother is now married and has another child.
Child was first removed from Mother and placed in the temporary custody of CFC in January 2004 by Whitley District Court (“Whitley DC”) on the basis of Mother’s drug use and the fact that she left Child with Paternal Grandparents for the preceding two months; CFC placed Child with Paternal Grandparents. After adjudication hearing but before disposition hearing, Whitley DC transferred the case to the Laurel District Court (“Laurel DC”). Laurel DC, after permanency hearing, subsequently ordered that the permanency plan was placement with a permanent custodian pursuant to CFC’s recommendation and named Paternal Grandparents as the permanent custodians. Laurel DC entered a permanent custody order the same day, presumably naming Paternal Grandparents as Child’s permanent custodians, although the order portion of the preprinted AOC-DNA-9 form was not completed.
In the Findings of Fact portion of the form, Laurel DC indicated that it considered factors relating to a prior independent finding that a de facto custodian existed. However, CA found that the record did not contain any document reflecting a prior independent finding that a de facto custodian situation existed in this case.
Eight months later, Maternal Grandparents and Mother filed a Verified Petition for Custody in the Knox Family Court (“Knox FC”), as this was the home county of Paternal Grandparents and Child, requesting custody to Maternal Grandparents or to Mother. Knox FC permitted Mother supervised visitation with Child and ordered that she submit to random drug tests, each of which revealed a negative result. A year and a half later, Mother moved Knox FC for custody of Child, stating that she had complied with the court’s order that she rehabilitate herself, that she was married, and that she was leading a stable life. After hearing in which Mother’s witnesses testified that she had overcome her past problems with drug abuse, that she was currently a different person, and that she was capable of raising Child, and testimony regarding Mother’s past drug use and her past actions in leaving Child with Paternal Grandparents for extended periods of time, Knox FC denied Mother’s motion on the record, noting that Child had been in Paternal Grandparents’ home for more than 3 years and that the benefits of changing custody would not outweigh the harm in doing so. Knox FC entered an order to this effect, finding that it would not be in Child’s best interest to remove him from the Paternal Grandparents’ home and awarding Mother standard, unsupervised visitation.
Mother argued to CA that Knox FC erred in awarding custody to Paternal Grandparents, because they were not de facto custodians and she was not unfit. Paternal Grandparents asserted that Laurel DC decided the issue of de facto custodians, so that any further adjudication on this issue would be barred by res judicata, and that they are de facto custodians.
CA noted that a de facto custodian is defined in KRS 403.270(1)(a) as: :[A] person who has been shown by clear and convincing evidence to have been the primary caregiver for, and financial supporter of, a child who has resided with the person for a period of six (6) months or more if the child is under three (3) years of age and for a period of one (1) year or more if the child is three (3) years of age or older or has been placed by the Department for Community Based Services.” CA stated that once it determines that such a person is a de facto custodian, TC shall give the person the same standing in custody matters that is given to each parent under this section, and determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child.
CA found that there was no prior finding that Paternal Grandparents were de facto custodians, nor were there any findings that Paternal Grandparents were the primary caregivers and financial supporters of Child for the required statutory period, despite the fact that the form AOC-DNA-9 had some boxes checked in this regard. Therefore, before Knox FC may determine custody as between Mother and Paternal Grandparents using a best interests standard, CA held it must first independently decide that Paternal Grandparents are de facto custodians. As such a finding had never been made, CA vacated Knox FC’s order and remanded for a determination of whether Paternal Grandparents meet the requirements to be de facto custodians.
Gripshover v. Gripshover, __ S.W.3d __ (Ky. 2008), 2005-SC-000729-DG and 2006-SC-000256-DG
Husband and his brother owned a farming operation, realty totaling over 600 acres, and a promissory note for more than a million dollars. They formed two limited partnerships: 1) a real estate partnership with their wives that would hold and manage the realty, and 2) a partnership to manage the farming operation. The brothers also assigned their partnership interests to two trusts. The wife signed documents allowing said transfers. The Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider the validity of the partnership and trust into which the parties transferred a large portion of their estate less than a year prior to the filing of the petition for divorce, as well as to review the child support and maintenance awards.
Real estate partnership and trust: There was no evidence that either party was contemplating divorce at the time the estate plan was executed or that the husband’s intent was to impair the wife’s marital rights. Therefore, the wife had not been defrauded, as she knowingly and voluntarily consented to the estate plan. The COA erred in holding that the wife retained an interest in the realty and that it was subject to division as marital property. The wife’s argument that the estate plan should be set aside due to the husband retaining control over the realty and not truly giving it to the trust is without merit. SC noted that the wife did not join the necessary parties to challenge the validity of the partnership and trust. Moreover, SC held there was nothing wrong with the brothers retaining control of the realty for the purpose of use in the farming operation. The realty was not transferred to the trust, but instead the partner’s interest in the partnership. Thus, the realty was validly removed from the marital estate and was not subject to division.
Husband’s nonmarital interest in the promissory note: Wife argues that husband’s entire half of the note is marital, since the other siblings quit-claimed their interests to the three remaining siblings (one being the husband) in 1987 (parties married in 1988) for no consideration. Wife argued that because the siblings gave up their interests for no consideration, the property should be regarded as having no equity at that point, and that all equity in the property was acquired after the marriage. The court rejected this argument, especially since in 1989 a small portion of the land was sold for more than the outstanding indebtedness which adequately established that the property increased in value as a result of economic factors alone.
Child support and maintenance: The parties’ incomes were wrongly determined. TC erred in allowing the husband to calculate his income for child support purposes using 26 U.S.C. sec. 179 expense deductions. Section 179 provides an alternative to standard, straight line depreciation, which KRS 403.212(2)(c) mandates as the only allowable method. TC also erred in imputing the wife with $360 per week of income, a level of income well above what she achieved when she was younger and in much better health. TC did not adequately consider all of the statutory factors in KRS 403.212(2)(d). Therefore, SC held that both child support and maintenance must be reconsidered.
Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
The Oklahoma Family Law Blog reports Parents Have Constitutional Right to Cross-Examine Guardian Ad Litem and discusses a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court decision. Makes sense. Of course, there is still the unsettled issue in Kentucky of the court's authority to appoint a guardian ad litem in child custody cases.
Spencer v. Spencer, ____ S.W.3d ____ (Ky. App. 2008), 2007-CA-000277-MR
Prior to the parties’ marriage, they executed an Antenuptial Agreement. During the marriage, Charles signed an authorization to transfer stocks, bonds, and money market funds held in his individual account to a new joint account at Edward Jones listing the owners as “Charles F. Spencer and L. Faye Spencer” with no mention of survivorship. After Charles died, his estate demanded that Faye release the assets in the account under the terms of the Antenuptial Agreement. The circuit court held, under KRS 391.315 and KRS 391.320, that Faye became the owner of the account on the date of Charles’ death.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the Antenuptial Agreement did not preclude Charles from giving Faye an interest in the account, but that the use of the conjunctive “and” created a tenancy in common under Kentucky’s common law. Therefore, upon Charles’ death, Faye is entitled to half the account, and his estate is entitled to the other half. The brokerage account does not fall under the definition of “account” utilized in KRS 391.315 and KRS 391.320; therefore, the Court was bound by the common law articulated in Saylor v. Saylor, 389 S.W.2d 904 (Ky. 1965).
Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Gripshover v. Gripshover was decided yesterday by the Kentucky Supreme Court. It’s an important case holding that transfer of a large portion of the marital estate to validly formed trust and partnership is neither fraud upon nor dissipation of the marital estate. It is also important for its holding that Section 179 of the tax code cannot be used to arrive at gross income for child support purposes; straight line depreciation is the only method of calculating depreciation expense in determining gross income for child support purposes. Guess we’ll need an accountant in every case involving a business owner unless the legislature changes KRS403.212(2)(a). Digest will follow soon.
Two decisions rendered by the Kentucky Court of Appeals last Friday are of interest to family lawyers and digests will be posted soon:
Allison v. Allison, nonmarital/marital interest in business where corporation redeemed parents’ stock, increasing husband’s % interest in business. (Sounds familiar to two cases we’ve had last year or two, now settled. It would be a great case for discretionary review.)
Estate of Charles Spencer v. Spencer is not a divorce case, but concerns a premarital agreement upon death and is interesting.
Jones v. Jones, ___S.W.3d___ (Ky. App. 2008)
Ex-Husband appealed TC’s orders classifying his Tobacco Transition Payment Program (TTPP) payments and a portion of the increase in value of his life estate as marital and awarding maintenance and attorney’s fees to Ex-Wife in divorce proceeding.
Prior to the parties’ 18 year marriage, Ex-Husband inherited from his grandfather a life estate in a farm consisting of 215 acres. During the marriage, the parties resided in a residence located on the farm, and Ex-Husband conducted farming operations thereupon. The parties entered into a prenuptial agreement prior to marriage.
In its orders regarding division of property, TC treated future TTPP payments to be made to Ex-Husband as owner of the life estate as marital property in order to effectuate an equitable division of property. CA found that TC erred as a matter of law by classifying the TTPP payments as marital property in order to effectuate a fair distribution of property. The classification of property as marital or nonmarital is not discretionary. CA further found that TTPP owner payments should have been classified as Ex-Husband’s nonmarital property. The TTPP owner payments represent compensation from the government for the taking of the property interest in the tobacco grower’s tobacco quotas. As Ex-Husband inherited the tobacco quotas from his grandfather, they were nonmarital, and the compensation received for them is also nonmarital.
CA also found that future TTPP payments to be made to Ex-Husband as a grower of tobacco should also be classified as Ex-Husband’s nonmarital property. Finding that these TTPP payments supplant income traditionally received from the sale of tobacco, CA found these payments to be properly classified as income. As the income from the sale of tobacco would have been classified as Ex-Husband’s nonmarital property pursuant to the parties’ prenuptial agreement, the grower TTPP payments were also his nonmarital property.
TC found that the parties made substantial improvements to the farm with marital assets, thus the life estate in the farm had a marital component. TC found the actual cost of improvements to the farm totaled $67,000.00, that these improvements were paid for with marital assets, and then adjusted the $67,000 by Ex-Husband's “life estate valuation formula” and concluded the marital property interest was $44,648.00. CA noted that under KRS 403.190(2)(e), any increase in value of property acquired before marriage is nonmarital unless the increase in value is attributed to “the efforts of the parties during marriage.” CA found that TC clearly erred when it equated actual cost of improvements to the life estate in the farm with increase in value to the life estate in the farm. To properly calculate the increase in value attributed to marital improvements upon property acquired before marriage, CA provided that the court must subtract the fair market value of the property at the time of dissolution without marital improvements from the fair market value of the property at the time of dissolution with marital improvements. The difference between such fair market values yields the increase in value attributed to marital improvements upon the property. As to a life estate acquired before marriage, a party may be compensated for the increased value attributed to marital improvements thereon, not to exceed the value of the improvements. Furthermore, when determining the fair market value (FMV) of real property with improvements and without improvements, expert opinion is ordinarily necessary. To be qualified to express an opinion upon FMV of real property, a witness, including the owner thereof, must possess some basis for knowledge of market values. The mere ownership of property does not qualify a lay person to give an opinion upon market value. The actual cost of improvements may be considered as evidence bearing upon FMV but should not be the sole factor. CA noted that if the parties come to the end of their proof with grossly insufficient evidence on the value of the property involved, TC should either order this proof to be obtained, appoint his own experts to furnish this value, at the cost of the parties, or direct that the property be sold. CA directed TC, upon remand, to calculate the marital increase in value of the life estate in the farm by subtracting FMV of the farm at the time of dissolution without marital improvements from the FMV of the farm at the time of dissolution with marital improvements, then, adjust this amount by a life estate valuation formula, but in no event shall the compensation for the marital increase in value to a life estate exceed the value of the improvements thereon.
Ex-Husband also contends TC erred by awarding maintenance to Ex-Wife. As entitlement and amount of maintenance are dependent upon the marital and nonmarital property allocated to the party for a determination of whether the claimant has sufficient resources for her support, CA ruled that Ex-Wife’s maintenance award must also be vacated for reconsideration as part of the underlying property award was reversed on appeal.
Ex-Husband finally contends TC abused its discretion by awarding attorney’s fees to Ex-Wife. Based upon the apparent imbalance of financial resources between the parties, CA found no abuse of discretion in TC’s award to Ex-Wife of a portion of her attorney’s fees.
Mickler v. Mickler, ___ S.W.3d___(Ky. App.2008)
Husband appealed an order denying his challenge to a garnishment served by his former Wife on several insurance providers who owed money to Husband’s medical practice. Husband argued that the accounts receivable were monies owed for professional services he performed. Therefore, he asserted the funds constituted wages meaning, pursuant to KRS 427.010(2)(a), 75% of those funds were exempt from garnishment.
CA opined that his argument was more appropriately based on KRS 427.005, which defines earnings. The CA held that accounts receivable that are owed due to personal services and labor of the debtor do constitute wages and are 75% exempt from garnishment. However, the CA further reasoned that the TC was correct in its holding that the funds due Husband were not only for his services but were also due for the services of his staff. Further, it was not the TC’s function, as Husband had asserted, to develop a formula for segregating the funds owed to Husband for his services from those owed due to the efforts of his staff. Instead, the burden of proof was on Husband to prove what portion of the accounts receivable were owed solely due to his personal services. Husband failed to meet this burden. Therefore, the TC correctly denied his motion challenging the garnishment.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
No family law opinions were released by the Kentucky Supreme Court yesterday. Today the Court of Appeals rendered one family law case designated to be published, Mickler v. Mickler. A digest will follow soon.
Raisor v. Raisor, ___S.W.3d___(Ky. App.)Ex-Wife appealed from TC’s order adopting the Separation and Property Settlement Agreement between Ex-Wife and Ex-Husband. The parties had reached a property settlement agreement at mediation, memorialized by the mediator's handwritten notes, which was signed by the parties, their respective attorneys, and the mediator. Thereafter, Ex-Husband's attorney tendered a formal settlement agreement incorporating the terms of settlement with the mediator’s handwritten notes attached. After Ex-Wife contested Ex-Husband's version of the agreement, DRC concluded that the agreement tendered by Ex-Husband reflected the settlement reached by the parties during mediation and recommended that TC accept the agreement, to which Ex-Wife filed exceptions. TC accepted DRC's recommendations and this appeal followed.
Because she did not make the argument to TC, CA rejected Ex-Wife’s argument that Ex-Husband's tendered settlement agreement could not be proven as a true recitation of the agreed-upon terms because the handwritten mediation notes were ambiguous and did not constitute a “written separation agreement” as required by Kentucky Revised Statutes 403.180(1). In fact, she had argued to TC that the handwritten notes should be accepted as the parties’ agreement. CA declared that Ex-Wife could not “feed one can of worms to the trial judge and another to the appellate court.” CA also rejected Ex-Wife's second argument, that TC’s review was inconclusive because the parties failed to submit financial disclosure statements required by the 53rd Judicial Circuit's local rules, because this argument was also raised for the first time on appeal. TC affirmed.
A full digest will follow shortly, but here's the short version: Raisor v. Raisor, Handwritten settlement outline signed at mediation was incorporated into formal MSA and approved by trial court. Affirmed. At trial court wife wanted outline approved but not MSA prepared by husband. On appeal she claimed outline ambiguous. One can’t “feed one can of worms to the trial judge and another to the appellate court.”
Heskett v. Heskett, ___S.W.3d___(Ky. App. 2008)
Wife appealed TC’s decision arguing that the court failed to restore her non-marital property. CA reversed and remanded, on a separate issue. CA opined that the TC was correct the property was marital but the TC erred because it failed to consider the issue of dissipation.
Husband and Wife separated in 2002. They drafted a settlement agreement but never signed the agreement. They did, however, divided the property and then began a physical separation. After several months of separation the couple reconciled and bought a house. As a down payment on the house Wife withdrew over $60,000 from CD’s purchased with her share of the previous property division. Husband contributed $8,500 to the purchase of the house from his portion of the property division. Again, however, the couple separated and Wife filed for divorce.
At the conclusion of trial the TC ordered Wife to pay Husband an equal share of the equity in the martial residence. Wife appealed and argued that the settlement agreement from the previous separation should control the classification and distribution of property. Therefore, she argued the money she used as a down payment on the house was her non-marital money and should be restored to her. CA opined that the TC was correct in its determination that the money was marital. CA reasoned that while the parties drafted an agreement during the first separation they never signed the agreement. Therefore, the agreement was not valid under KRS 403.180. Furthermore, when the couple reconciled the previous agreement was voided and not revived by the second separation. However, the CA went on to say that the TC erred because it did not consider the issue of dissipation.
At trial, Wife presented extensive evidence tracing her share of the assets received as a result the first separation. Husband, however, introduce virtually no evidence tracing his share of the assets. In fact, the trial court noted that it was unclear what Husband had done with his share. However, the TC divided the couple’s assets equally. The CA opined that, in the instant case, an equal distribution was not a just distribution. Husband’s inability to account for the majority of his share of the assets received during the first separation constituted dissipation of the marital estate. Therefore, Wife was entitled to have the money she used as a down payment on the marital residence restored to her. Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Kentucky Bar Association v. Glidewell, ___S.W.3d___(Ky. 2007)
Two bar complaints were filed against Attorney. The first complaint arose because, in the course of a divorce action, Attorney failed to respond to motions, attend hearings, or communicate with her client. She failed to respond to a motion requesting that her client pay arrearages on and then keep his mortgage payments current. She also failed to attend the hearing and the court entered an order granting the motion. When her client failed to abide by the order her client’s wife filed a motion for contempt. Attorney did not respond to this motion, inform her client about the motion, or attend the hearing. As he had no knowledge of the hearing, her client also failed to attend the hearing. The court found him in contempt and issued an arrest warrant. Subsequently, the client hired new counsel and attempted to have the unused portion of his retainer refunded. However, counsel did not return his phone calls. Attorney responded to the bar complaint but did not file an Answer to the Charge when it was issued. The Board of Governors by a unanimous vote found her guilty of lack of diligence, failure to keep client informed, failure to adequately explain matter to client, improper termination, and failure to respond to an inquiry from a disciplinary authority. Attorney was suspended from the practice of law for a period of forty-five days and was ordered to pay restitution and cost.
The second complaint against the Attorney also arose out of a divorce action. At the conclusion of this divorce action the client still owed Attorney money. Therefore, she filed a Notice of Attorney’s Lien on her client’s marital residence. However, she failed to do a title search and discover that title to the home had been conveyed to her client’s parents. She had never represented his parents and they owed her no money. Client’s parents informed Attorney that they now owned the home and Attorney filed a lien release. However, she did not properly identify the property and the lien was not removed. Attorney was informed of the mistake but took no action until after the bar complaint was filed. Attorney responded to the bar complaint but did not file an Answer to the Charge when it was issued. On this Charge the Commission found her not guilty, by unanimous vote, of using means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, and committing a criminal act.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Brenzel v. Brenzel, ___ S.W. 3d____ (Ky. App. 2008)
Husband appealed TC’s Order resulting from distribution of property in dissolution action, alleging that TC erred when it valued his interest in businesses partially owned by him and when it denied his CR 60.02 motion. Wife cross-appealed, alleging that TC erred when it determined Husband's income and that the amount of her maintenance award was an abuse of discretion.
Husband and Wife were married for sixteen years and have 2 minor children. Throughout the marriage, Husband was involved in several business ventures with his father and brother. Husband alleged that TC erred when it determined that he would not have to repay draws and advances made against the capital account of the family-owned businesses and, thus, were not properly characterized as debts owed by Husband nor debts that decreased the value of his business interests. In addition to his salary, there was evidence that Husband had taken draws from the partnership and had decreased its capital account in the amount of $324,508.
Wife’s CPA utilized the asset approach to value Husband's interest in the family businesses, but did not deduct draws and advances by either brother as there were no promissory notes or evidence that debts were owed to a third party as a result of the draws and advances. He concluded that the businesses were worth $13,500 and $183,150. One of Husband’s financial experts deducted the value of the draws and advances and a negative capital account from one business’ value and concluded that it had a negative value of $656,846, and he testified that if that business was dissolved or sold, the partners could require Husband to repay his portion of the money, which totaled $324,508. Husband’s other expert testified that real estate owned by the other business was worth less than the amount it appraised for a few years prior, even though Husband received his full portion of the appraised amount when the property was sold. TC concluded that the values of Husband's interests in the businesses were $162,800 and $13,500, as there was no credible evidence that upon dissolution of the partnership or its sale, Husband would be required to pay back the approximately $324,508 he received in draws and advances against the capital account as suggested by Husband's expert. The court then awarded $80,000 to Wife as her marital interest in the businesses and Husband $96,300.
CA found significant the absence of promissory notes signed by Husband, any specific evidence in the record that Husband was obligated to repay the money, or evidence that Husband had made any past payments toward the amount and agreed with Wife that there was no abuse of discretion in TC’s refusal to deduct that amount from the value of Husband's interest in the family businesses.
After receiving TC’s original ruling and rulings on CR 59.05 motions filed by both parties, Husband filed a CR 60.02 motion alleging that Wife had made a substantial down payment on a residence and possibly failed to disclose marital assets or had additional income, and that he had a non-marital interest in property included in the marital estate. He cited health issues as the reason for his failure to raise the issue earlier. Prior to the ruling on the motion, Husband filed this appeal. Husband contends that TC denied his CR 60.02 motion based on its erroneous interpretation of the law that since he had filed a notice of appeal prior to TC’s ruling on the motion, the court lost jurisdiction. However, he failed to cite to the record where TC expressed the basis for its denial of his motion. CA found that that the grounds alleged in Husband's motion and affidavit were insufficient to warrant the relief requested and, therefore, it was properly denied.
Wife challenged TC’s calculation of Husband’s income, asserting that TC should have calculated the businesses’ projected future earnings based on the past few years’ performance, rather than setting a lower amount based on predicted downturns in profitability. TC found, in agreement with Husband’s testimony, that Husband’s gross monthly income was $4,847.17. Wife argued that Husband's income should have been based on the years immediately preceding the dissolution hearing during which Husband's income was higher than $4,847.17. CA disagreed, finding that there was persuasive evidence that the profits from the family businesses had steadily declined over the past five years, and the fact that real estate owned by the businesses was listed for sale indicated that Husband’s future income was speculative.
Wife also challenged the amount of maintenance awarded on the basis that her reasonable living expenses exceed her income and the maintenance awarded. Wife is a 40 year-old high school graduate who receives Social Security Disability benefits of $804 per month. TC awarded permanent maintenance of only $250 per month, though her reasonable needs total $2,201 per month. CA disagreed with Wife, noting that Wife received $107,130.20 in marital property and that Wife was assigned a comparatively small amount of the marital debt. Thus, when it determined the amount of maintenance to award, TC properly considered the factors set forth in KRS 403.200(2). Affirmed.
Hibdon v. Hibdon, ___ S. W. 3d ___(Ky. App. 2007)
Husband appealed from order of the Bullitt County Circuit Court (TC), confirming Domestic Relations Commissioner’s (DRC's) report, dividing his pension plan with Ex-wife, contending that TC erred in its computation of the present value of the plan.
Husband and Ex-Wife were married for 27 years. Husband began earning his pension benefits shortly after the parties married. The primary disagreement between the parties concerned the present value of Husband’s defined benefits pension plan. However, at the hearing on this issue, only Ex-Wife offered evidence in regard to the calculation of the plan's value. Included in Ex-Wife's evidence was a pension valuation which utilized the monthly benefit amount Husband would receive if he continued to work until his normal retirement age, multiplied by 174 months (Husband’s post-retirement life expectancy), and then discounted to present value by 2.25% per local rule. DRC’s findings of fact and conclusions of law concluded that Husband’s pension plan had a value equal to that calculated by Wife, to be discounted for present value by 2.25%, and the entirety of that amount was marital property. DRC did not explain how he arrived at a 2.25% annual discount rate, nor does the rule allow for the Commissioner to explain the influence of the annual inflation rate or other essential data required to provide a competent analysis of the pension plan's present value.
After no exceptions were filed within ten days, TC adopted DRC’s report in its entirety. Husband then filed a motion pursuant to CR 59.05 to alter or amend TC’s order adopting DRC’s report, asserting that DRC accepted Ex-Wife’s erroneous evidence regarding the value of his pension plan. TC assigned matter to DRC for a recommendation as to whether TC’s order should be altered or amended. After hearing, DRC filed his report recommending that Husband’s CR 59.05 motion be denied because he had not offered any new evidence which was not readily available to him at the property division hearing. Before TC could act on the recommendation, Husband filed a motion for a hearing to contest DRC’s valuation of his pension plan. TC adopted DRC’s recommendation to deny the first CR 59.05 motion and denied Husband’s motion for hearing. This appeal followed.
Ex-Wife argues that Husband’s failures to offer evidence of the present value of the pension and to timely file exceptions to DRC’s report are fatal to his appeal. CA disagreed, finding that TC abdicated its discretion to DRC and erred by adopting a present day value of Husband’s pension plan which was not supported by competent evidence. Further, even if Husband insufficiently preserved the issue for review, a palpable error affecting the substantial rights of an individual resulting in manifest injustice is reviewable, even if insufficiently raised or preserved.
Although the evidence as to the value of the pension was limited and offered only by Ex-Wife, CA held that, as a matter of law, the value assigned to the pension plan was clearly erroneous and the error so serious that it must be considered palpable. TC miscalculated the present value of his pension plan by allowing Husband’s post-divorce earnings to be included in the calculation of the present value of the pension plan. Because Ex-Wife's share of the pension was limited to her interest in its accumulated value earned during the marriage, TC abused its discretion by allowing Ex-Wife to receive a share of the pension which included Husband’s post-divorce earnings. Reversed and remanded for a new hearing to determine the marital distribution of Husband’s pension as of the date of the parties’ divorce.
CA noted that Bullitt County’s local rule regarding establishment of present day value of a pension negates the requirement of expert testimony and is not based upon accepted accounting or economic principles, and that entry of a QDRO dividing the pension would be simpler and is a preferable method of division of pensions.
One family law decision designated to be published was issued today, Hibdon v. Hibdon, online here. It's an important case involving valuation of a defined benefit pension which we will digest and post after the holidays.
UPDATE: We were late getting this digest posted. The Kentucky Supreme Court, however, denied discretionary review and ordered that the Court of Appeals decision not be published.
Lane v. Caudill-Lane, 2007 WL 2459269
Dad appealed TC order awarding sole custody to Mom and requiring Dad’s visits to be supervised. Additionally, Dad appealed TC’s order awarding Mom attorney’s fees.
CA upheld the award of custody and attorney’s fees but overturned the supervised visitation.
CA opined, on the issue of custody, that there was sufficient evidence presented for the trial court to award sole custody. CA went on to state that an award of joint custody presumes that the parties can rise above their petty issues and do what is in the best interest of the child. A TC should not assume that because parties are antagonistic during a divorce that they will not be able to rise above it in the future. However, in the instant case, the CA reasoned that it did not appear from the record that the parties possessed the necessary emotional maturity to ensure joint custody would be in the child’s best interest.
Regarding the issue of visitation, CA held that there was not substantial evidence to warrant limiting Dad’s visitation and TC used the wrong standard in making its decision. The appropriate standard for restricting visitation is whether the visitation would “seriously endanger the child”. There was testimony presented that, among other things, Dad had called a phone sex line, that he had visited pornography websites, and that he had watched pornographic movies. However, none of this occurred in the presence of the child. There was no evidence presented that such activity would harm the child. CA stated that there may be situations in which this type of behavior would endanger a child but there was no evidence presented that Dad’s behavior would “seriously endanger the child”.
On the issue of attorney’s fees, CA held that the decision to award attorney’s fees is completely in the discretion of the TC. The only requirement is that the court consider the financial resources of the parties.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
Johnson v. Johnson, 232 S.W.3d 571 (Ky. App. 2007)
Dad appealed an order recalculating and increasing his child support. On appeal, Dad argued that it was error for the TC to review child support because Mom did not show a 15% change in the amount of child support due. Also, Dad argued that the TC abused its discretion in raising his child support because mom didn’t show a 15% increase. CA held the TC erred in not making any findings of fact but Dad failed to request the court make such findings and therefore failed to preserve the error for appeal.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
London v. Collins, ___S.W.3d___(Ky. App. 2007)
Child resided primarily with Mom until she was removed in a dependency action. At the temporary removal hearing Dad agreed that it would be best that the child temporarily reside with a member of Mom’s family. Shortly thereafter Mom died. At what was supposed to be a pre-trial conference a social worker incorrectly informed the TC that Dad had agreed that permanent custody should be awarded to the temporary custodian (custodian). Dad was not represented by counsel, his custodial rights were not explained to him, and the TC did not question him about his wishes regarding custody. Approximately a year later dad filed a petition for custody. The TC held that the custodian was a de facto custodian, that she had equal standing with Dad, and that Dad had failed to meet the statutory requirements to modify custody. The trial court also held that because Dad did not object when the permanency order was entered he waived his custody.
CA held that while Dad was present when custody was awarded to the custodian it was likely he did not understand what was occurring. The CA opined that while a parent can waive his parental rights that waiver should not occur by accident because a party does not understand the proceedings. Dad’s silence at the pre-trial conference did not constitute a waiver of his parental rights. Additionally, the CA held that since no evidence was taken at the hearing on Dad’s petition for custody there could be no finding that the custodian was a de facto custodian. Regarding the permanency order, the CA held that a permanency order in a dependency action may qualify as a custody decree. However, to be considered a valid custody decree it must be based on the standards set forth in KRS 403.279(2). The TC took no evidence upon which it could have found that the custody placement was in the child’s best interest and therefore did not meet the elements of KRS 403.279(2). Because the order in the dependency action was not a custody decree, as envisioned by KRS Chapter 403, it was not necessary that the requirements of KRS 403.340(2) be met in order to modify custody.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
A reader asked me to post an article I published in The Advocate. Here's the beginning and the entire article is on a .pdf at the end.
Published in The Advocate, The Kentucky Justice Association, November/December, 2007, Volume 35, Number 6
DOMESTIC LAW WATCH FOR ALL CIVIL LITIGATORS
The doctrine of constructive trust, transfers to family limited partnerships and estate planning trusts, and equitable estoppel are some of the themes running through the most interesting new and pending Kentucky domestic cases. Just as good family law practitioners stay current in other fields of law, divorce cases can be important to trial attorneys with no family law practice. The status of the law regarding relocation of children, which so far is unique to family law, will be addressed at the end of this article.
As an update, Hinshaw v. Hinshaw (digested here) was rendered after this article was written.
Pursley v. Pursley, —S.W.3d—, 2007 WL 4126464 (Ky. App. 2007).
Dad appealed Family Court’s order modifying joint custody of Daughter to sole custody with Mom, and restricting Dad’s visitation to weekly supervised visitation. Dad alleged that Circuit Court erred by treating the Exceptions he filed as a Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate and by transferring the case to Family Court.
When Daughter was ten, Mom and Dad divorced and agreed upon joint custody with equal time sharing of Daughter. Two years later, Mom alleged that Dad had engage in inappropriate sexual relations with Daughter and moved for sole custody. The matter was heard by a Domestic Relations Commissioner (“DRC”), who recommended sole custody to Mom with weekly supervised visitation by Dad. Dad timely filed Exceptions to the DRC’s recommendations. Circuit Court entered an Order that it would treat the Exceptions as a Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate pursuant to CR 59.05 DRC’s recommendation and transfer the case to Family Court. DRC had been elected as Family Court Judge, and in that capacity, he subsequently denied the Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate. Dad appealed.
CA agreed with Dad. Regarding the Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate, CA noted that a CR 59.05 motion may only be utilized to seek reconsideration of a “final judgment.” The recommended order of a DRC is not a final judgment, but, rather, a recommendation utilized by the circuit court in reaching a final decision, thus the Motion to Alter, Amend or Vacate was not available at that stage of the proceedings. Considering the procedural posture of this case, CA believed the circuit court should have simply reviewed the exceptions, conducted a hearing, and entered a final judgment adjudicating the child custody issue.
As to Dad’s contention that the case should not have been transferred to Family Court, CA noted that while the family court was vested with jurisdiction over domestic issues by Ky. Const., § 112(6) and KRS 23A.100, such jurisdiction was not intended to be exclusive. Rather, the circuit court may, in some circumstances, retain jurisdiction to rule on domestic issues already before it, such as child custody. CA found that this case presented a unique circumstance where the circuit court should have retained jurisdiction and not referred it to Family Court since DRC conducted the proceedings, including an evidentiary hearing pursuant to CR 53.
Mom argued that Dad did not preserve issues for appeal, but CA stated that the gravity of errors claimed was one of substantial proportions, and pursuant to CR 61.02 this error may be considered by CA and the appropriate relief may be granted upon a determination that manifest injustice resulted from the error. CA noted that such an injustice had occurred, because “in a child custody proceeding, there can be no greater injustice to a party than a court failing to comply with applicable statutes and civil rules.
Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
The Kentucky Court of Appeals directed one family law opinion today to be published, Pursley v. Pursley, out of Marshall County. Digest to follow soon, but the commissioner recommended a change of custody to mom based apparently on allegations of sexual abuse. Then the commissioner who heard the case was elected to the newly created family court in that county. The court of appeals held that a hearing under CR53.06(2) should have been held following the commissioner's recommendation in circuit court.
Croft v. Croft, ___S.W.3d__(Ky. App. 2007)
Wife appealed an order dividing marital property, denying maintenance, and restoring non-marital property. First, Wife argued that the TC erred in finding that the marital residence was Husband’s non-marital property. CA agreed with Wife and reversed and remanded on this issue. Husband purchased the house and adjoining lot before the couple was married. However, the mortgage was paid off after the marriage, with marital funds. CA reasoned that the TC should have acknowledged this fact and apportioned some of the value of the property as marital. Also, the couple made several, post marriage, improvements to the house. Therefore, Wife claimed the increase in value should be considered marital property. Husband argued that the improvements were just regular maintenance and “were not substantial enough to warrant an increase in value.” CA opined that a TC needs only to determine that the increase in value was due to improvements and not just economic conditions in order for the property to qualify as marital property. Absent clear and convincing evidence that the increased value was due to economic conditions alone the property should be considered marital.
Next, Wife argued it was error for the TC to deny her claim for permanent maintenance. TC held that considering the length of the marriage ( the parties were married in 1997) and the division of property maintenance was not appropriate. CA held that the TC’s decision was not an abuse of discretion because it was supported by substantial evidence.
Finally, Wife argued that the TC erred because it did not divide the property proportionately. CA held that the TC did not err in its division of property. CA opined that husband had presented sufficient evidence that certain items in his possession were his non-marital property. Additionally, wife provided no evidence that any of that property was marital.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
The suit was brought by Father who claimed that he should not be responsible for child support when Mother had represented that she didn't want to have a child and assured him repeatedly she couldn't get pregnant. Father argued that Michigan's paternity laws violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because a man does not have a similar choice as does a pregnant woman regarding abortion, adoption or raising a child.
The court found that Michigan Paternity Act does not affect any of Father’s fundamental rights because "it is not a fundamental right of any parent, male or female, to sever his or her financial responsibilities to the child after the child is born." The court further noted that it did not need to apply intermediate scrutiny because the Michigan Paternity Act and other statutes that impose the obligation of support are gender neutral. Finally, the court found that the Michigan Paternity Act withstood rational basis review because "the means that the statute uses to achieve this end–requiring support from the legal parents, and determining legal fatherhood based on the biological fatherhood–is substantially, let alone rationally, related to this legitimate, and probably important, government purpose."
HINSHAW (NOW LENARZ) V. HINSHAW
FAMILY LAW: EQUITABLE AVOIDANCE AND PATERNITY
PUBLISHED: 605 AFFIRMING; OPINION WRITTEN BY - CUNNINGHAM
DATE RENDERED: 10/31/2007
Mom appealed CA’s opinion affirming TC’s order awarding joint custody of child to parents and primary residence to Dad, claiming that TC erred when it failed to resolve Dad’s custody rights based on DNA evidence indicating he was not biological father, and by applying equitable estoppel in its custody determination.
Mom gave birth to child during marriage of parties. At birth, Dad was in the delivery room, cut umbilical cord, and was named on birth certificate. Dad was led to believe that he was biological father to child, and was deeply involved in Child’s life as his father. Three and a half years later, Mom filed for divorce, and then amended her petition, alleging for the first time that Dad was not Child’s biological father and seeking court-ordered DNA testing to prove her claim. DNA evidence established that Dad was not Child’s biological father. TC appointed a custodial evaluator, who determined that the severance of Dad’s and Child’s relationship would result in severe emotional and psychological harm to Child. TC found that Mom was equitably estopped from challenging Dad’s custody rights based on DNA testing, that DNA test was irrelevant to issue of custody, and awarded joint custody to the parties with primary residence to be with Dad. CA affirmed TC on appeal.
ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS:
Mom argued that DNA tests rebutted the presumption of paternity in KRS 406.011 and thus triggered the application of KRS 406.111, requiring a resolution of paternity. Mom further argued that equitable estoppel cannot be applied in custody cases and that even if applied, Dad failed to establish the necessary elements of equitable estoppel.
“A party asserting equitable estoppel must show the following elements: (1) Conduct, including acts, language and silence, amounting to a representation or concealment of material facts; (2) the estopped party is aware of these facts; (3) these facts are unknown to the other party; (4) the estopped party must act with the intention or expectation his conduct will be acted upon; and (5) the other party in fact relied on this conduct to his detriment.” SC found that all these requirements were met in this case, as Mom’s acts, language and silence were all aimed at misleading Dad into believing he was Child’s father and at developing the father-son relationship. Though Mom argued that Dad failed to show reliance and conduct to his detriment, pointing to the fact that Dad had testified that he would not have done anything differently in his relationship with Child, SC disagreed. SC noted that Dad’s willingness to continue his relationship with Child had he known the truth is not the same as saying he would have taken no action at all. Mom’s failure to inform Dad of Child’s paternity denied Dad the opportunity to seek legal advice as to the relationship with Child and his rights and obligations with regard to Mom and Biological Father. SC noted that it followed other jurisdictions in its determination that equitable estoppel could be applied in custody cases, and that KY CA had applied the common law principle of equitable estoppel in S.R.D. v. T.L.B., 174 S.W.3d 502 (Ky. App. 2005).
SC held that Mom, having encouraged Father/Son relationship between Dad and Child, could not now deny it, and that under the unique circumstances of the case, “equitable estoppel precludes [Mom] from challenging [Dad’s] status as [Child’s] father, a status she created and accepted.”
Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
UNINSURED EMPLOYERS' FUND V. BRADLEY
FAMILY LAW: PATERNITY
WORKERS COMP: UNINSURED EMPLOYERS FUND (UEF)
PANEL: KELLER PRESIDING; VANMETER, GUIDUGLI CONCUR
DATE RENDERED: 10/19/2007
The Uninsured Employers' Fund (UEF) appealed from TC’s order denying its motion to set aside an order determining that deceased worker was father of child. The UEF argued that TC’s order was void ab initio because that court lacked jurisdiction; that it was a necessary party to this action; and that TC erred when it did not provide relief under CR 60.03.
Because Worker’s employer did not have worker’s compensation insurance when Worker died due to a work-related injury, UEF was joined as a party to worker’s compensation claim filed by Estate. During course of discovery in worker’s compensation claim, the parties determined that Worker might have fathered a child before coming to the U.S. from Mexico. Neither the child nor child’s Mother had ever resided in the U.S. After Administrative Law Judge refused to make paternity determination, Estate filed Complaint for Determination of Paternity in Family Court. UEF was not named as a party but was copied on Complaint. UEF did not move to intervene or otherwise respond to the complaint. Family Court entered Agreed Order of Paternity. A few months later, UEF filed Motion to Set Aside Paternity Order under CR 60.02. TC denied the Motion and UEF brought this appeal.
ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS:
UEF first argued that TC lacked jurisdiction to determine paternity on several different grounds. In order to file complaint under KRS 406.021, the complaint must have been filed by County Attorney or CHFS. As Estate filed the complaint, the complaint could not have been properly before the court under this statute. CA agreed. UEF also asserted that KRS Chapter 406, which is said to apply to all cases of birth out of wedlock, did not provide jurisdiction to TC to determine paternity, as the birth must have occurred in the state or the mother must have met certain residency requirements. As neither of these terms was met, UEF claimed that TC did not have jurisdiction to decide paternity under KRS Chapter 406. CA again agreed. However, CA found that Section 112 of the Constitution and KRS 23A.100 and 23A.110, when construed together, give the family court jurisdiction beyond KRS Chapter 406 proceedings, including declaratory judgment actions. Furthermore, though the complaint was styled as a determination of paternity, it was appropriate to treat the complaint as a declaratory judgment, as a pleading should be judged according to its substance and not its form.
UEF next argued that Estate fatally erred by failing to join it as a necessary party in the paternity action, because it had an interest that would be affected by the declaration of paternity, as it may be required to pay income benefits to any children of Worker. CA found that UEF did have an interest in the declaration of paternity, but that UEF should have attempted to intervene in the action, as only parties can complain that a necessary party was not joined.
Lastly, UEF argued for relief under CR 60.03, which provides for equitable relief through independent actions. In order to receive this relief, UEF should have demonstrated that there was no other available or adequate remedy; that it did not create or affect the situation for which it requests equitable relief through its own fault or neglect; and that there was a recognized ground for the relief, such as fraud, accident or mistake. CA found that UEF did not and could not have demonstrated any of these things, as the fact that it had the opportunity to intervene in the action affected each one.
ZOELLER V. GUTTERMAN
FAMILY LAW: GRANDPARENT VISITATION AND ADOPTION
PANEL: THOMPSON, PRESIDING; NICKELL, STUMBO CONCUR
DATE RENDERED: 10/26/2007
Grandmother and her Husband appealed from TC’s order holding that Grandfather had standing to seek grandparent visitation and that visitation would be in the best interest of Grandchild.
Grandchild was born to 15 year-old unwed Daughter, and no putative father was named. Daughter agreed that Grandmother and her Husband would be court-appointed guardians for Grandchild. Daughter died about two years later. Grandmother and Husband filed a Petition to adopt Grandchild in Jefferson Family Court, Division Three. Two weeks later, unaware of the pending adoption petition, Grandfather filed a petition for grandparent visitation in Jefferson Family Court, Division Four. The adoption petition was granted about a month later, prior to the entry of the grandparent visitation order. Grandfather than amended his petition in the visitation action, but Grandmother responded that he lacked standing to seek grandparent visitation because of the adoption. A GAL was appointed for grandchild. The GAL filed her report and motion requesting that Grandfather be granted immediate visitation. TC ultimately ordered that Grandfather have temporary visitation with Grandchild every weekend. After seeking a writ of prohibition from CA, which was denied, and receiving SC’s memorandum opinion affirming same, TC finally held evidentiary hearing. TC determined that Grandfather did have standing to proceed and that it was in Grandchild’s best interests to continue his relationship with Grandfather, and thus granted Grandfather’s petition and established terms of visitation. Grandmother and Husband filed CR 52 and 59 motions, both of which were denied, filed an appeal of these denials with CA, and subsequently filed a motion for intermediate relief with CA and requested emergency relief, which was denied.
ARGUMENTS AND ANALYSIS:
Grandmother and Husband contended that TC should have dismissed the case because Grandfather did not obtain a circuit court visitation order prior to the entry of the adoption decree, and KRS 405.021, the grandparent visitation statute, requires a visitation order to be issued by the circuit court prior to the termination of parental rights of a grandparent’s son or daughter to protect grandparent visitation rights with the children of that son or daughter. CA agreed that this was the correct interpretation of the statute, but that it was incorrectly applied as the case at bar did not concern termination of parental rights. CA found it to be even more important that the statute and cases interpreting it did not allude to situations where one grandparent used the adoption statute as a means to bypass the grandparents’ visitation statute, as CA found Grandmother to have done.
Because a parent’s rights lapse upon death, there is no contested proceeding to alert a grandparent that visitation rights need to be asserted. However, neither the adoption statute nor the grandparents’ visitation statutes require notice to a grandparent of a pending adoption petition. This could leave open the door to grandparents engaging in a race to the courthouse to conclude an adoption prior to the grandparent’s visitation petition. CA stated that the pending adoption petition in this case was such a significant fact that Grandmother and Husband were required to inform TC of its existence. CA found that Grandmother’s and Husband’s concealment of adoption petition was a “tactical maneuver to circumvent [Grandfather’s] right” to have TC determine whether visitation was in Grandchild’s best interest, and that such manipulation of the timing of the adoption precluded them from successfully challenging Grandfather’s standing.
Following the modified best interest standard for grandparents found in Vibbert v. Vibbert, 144 S.W.3d 292 (Ky. App. 2004), CA determined that, because there was strong evidence that Grandfather and Grandchild had a rewarding and loving relationship during Daughter’s lifetime and that Grandchild had established ties to Grandfather’s family, it was in Grandchild’s best interests to have visitation with Grandfather as established by TC.
J.M.R. v. Commonwealth___S.W.3d___ (Ky. App. 2007)
Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights to her two infant children. Mother alleged TC made three errors. First, she alleged it was error to permit the children’s therapists to testify about statements made to them by the children about the abuse. CA held that the testimony of the therapist was admissible under KRE 803(4). CA opined that the statements were made to the therapist so that they could determine what happened and determine what treatment was necessary. Therefore, the statements were made for the purpose of receiving medical treatment.
Next, Mother argued that not allowing the children to testify violated her constitutional rights. CA held that it was not error to refuse to allow the children to testify. CA reasoned that the children were questioned by the court in camera with Mother’s counsel present. Therefore, she had been afforded an opportunity to question the children. TC did not error in its finding that it would not be in the best interest of the children to make them testify.
Finally, Mother alleged that the TC erred in holding that she had failed to provide for the essential needs of her children. CA opined that Mother’s failure to pay court ordered child support, while the children were in state custody, and the fact that she still resided with the children’s stepfather, and abuser, who paid all of the household bills was substantial evidence to prove she had failed to provide for their essential needs. Furthermore, CA opined that even if it was error it was harmless because her rights would have been terminated based on the abuse.
Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates
The Court of Appeals issued one "to be published" divorce opinion today, Croft v. Croft, online, re nonmarital and marital property and maintenance. Digest will follow soon.
The Kentucky Supreme Court accepted discretionary review of Gaskill v. Robbins, digested here, and about which we reported here and here. It was announced at the UK Biennial Family Law Institute in Lexington today that the briefing schedule is expedited. (And, Justice Keller, Professor Graham did communicate your views, as ordered.)