Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals' decision holding that the family court erred in declining to conduct a special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) hearing at the disposition phase of a dependency, neglect and abuse case regarding an unaccompanied Guatemalan child (Child), holding that the Kentucky General Assembly has not specifically directed Kentucky's courts to make SIJ findings. Child was detained by United States immigration authorities in Arizona and temporarily placed with a cousin pending immigration proceedings. An adult resident of Newport, Kentucky filed a dependency petition in the Campbell County Family Court regarding Child. The court concluded that it was without the jurisdictional authority to undertake SIJ findings because such findings were not relevant to the core dependency, neglect, and abuse matters before the court. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Kentucky courts are not required to make additional findings related to SIJ classification unless the court first determines that the evidence to be gathered from such a hearing is relevant to the child's best interests. View "Commonwealth, Cabinet for Health & Family Services v. N.B.D." on Justia Law

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In this custody dispute, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals reversing the circuit court's finding that Appellant qualified as the child's de facto custodian under Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.270, holding that Appellant did not qualify as the child's de facto custodian and lacked standing to assert custodial rights. The circuit court granted temporary custody of the child to Appellant and Dixie Meinders. Later, it was discovered that Keith Middleton was the child's biological father. Keith moved to transfer custody and later filed a civil action seeking custody of the child. Appellant was granted custody. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Appellant did not qualify for de facto custodian status. The Supreme Court held (1) the time period required for de facto custodian status under section 403.270 must be continuous, rather than aggregated; (2) any active participation by a parent in a custody proceeding evincing a desire to regain custody is sufficient to toll the requisite de facto custodian time period under section 403.270; (3) neither Appellant nor Dixie qualified as the child's de facto custodian, and both lacked standing to assert custodial rights; and (4) custody should be placed with Keith where the mother agreed that sole custody be placed with him. View "Meinders v. Middleton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals in this grandparent visitation case affirming the judgment of the trial court awarding limited grandparent visitation to Bruce Tipton, the paternal grandfather of the children, holding that the trial court properly considered and applied the best interest factors and applied the proper standard of proof. David and Darlene Morton, the maternal grandfather and step-grandmother of the two children in this case, were granted permanent custody of the children. The family court included a provision for Tipton to have supervised visitation at the Mortons’ discretion. Tipton later filed this petition to modify the grandparent visitation by asking for an established visitation schedule. Ultimately, the trial court granted visitation three times per year with restrictions. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the trial court properly applied the preponderance of the evidence standard and appropriately considered the relevant factors set forth in Walker v. Blair, 382 S.W.3d 862, 871 (Ky. 2012). The Supreme court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly used the preponderance of the evidence burden of proof when assessing whether Tipton’s grandparent visitation was in the best interest of the children and did not abuse its discretion when granting the limited visitation. View "Morton v. Tipton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court finding the two children in this case to be neglected children and the court’s order requiring in-home supervision by the children’s mother of all contact with them by their father, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion. Father had a history of criminal convictions for sexually abusing his underage half-brother and a failure to comply with conditions of probation. After Father married and had two children, the trial court adopted the recommendation of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services that Father have supervised contact with his sons, with whom he and Mother shared a home. Finding that Father still placed the children at risk of harm, the trial court concluded that the parents had neglected their children by creating or allowing to be created a risk of injury or sexual abuse. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that “a finding of neglect cannot be sustained solely on a child living with a biological parent who is a registered sex offender.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion finding that the parents neglected their two sons. View "Cabinet for Health & Family Services v. R.S." on Justia Law

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At issue in this visitation dispute was whether the trial judge’s questioning of a teenage boy exceeded the bounds of Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.290(1). Father had physical custody of the parties’ two sons when Mother pursued timesharing. Father moved to suspend Mother’s visitation/timesharing rights based upon the boys’ sexual abuse allegations. The trial court suspended Mother’s visitation rights to her two sons after conducting an in camera interview in chambers with one of the boys. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the judge’s questioning exceeded the bounds of section 403.290(1) but that the error was harmless. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court’s in camera questioning did not exceed the bounds of section 403.290(1) because it is appropriate for the court to make detailed inquiries especially when allegations of sexual abuse are at issue and that Mother received the process she was due. View "May v. Harrison" on Justia Law

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In this custody and support action, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing and remanding Laura Smith’s award of attorney’s fees, holding that the trial court acted within its discretion when assessing attorney’s fees against Jimmy McGill after considering the parties’ financial resources. Jimmy filed a motion to become the primary residential custodian of his and Laura’s two youngest daughters. The family court denied the motion. Laura then moved for attorney’s fees. The trial court then ordered Jimmy to pay a portion of Laura’s attorney’s fees. The court of appeals reversed and remanded as to this issue, determining that no actual disparity existed between the parties’ income to justify an award of attorney’s fees to Laura pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.220. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court followed the dictates of the statute and therefore did not err in its award of attorney’s fees. View "Smith v. McGill" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the decision of the circuit court finding C.B.’s daughter to be a neglected child pursuant to the Kentucky Unified Juvenile Code and reinstated the orders of the circuit court, holding that substantial evidence supported the lower court’s finding of neglect. In reversing, the court of appeals found that the evidence supporting the circuit court’s orders was speculative and did not rise to the preponderance level and that the child could not be found to be neglected because C.B. had never exercised custodial control or supervision over the child. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the General Assembly drafted Ky. Rev. Stat. 600.020(1)(a) with the intention that a parent does not have to be exercising control or supervision in order to be found to have neglected or abused a child; and (2) the lower court’s finding of neglect was supported by substantial evidence. View "Cabinet for Health & Family Services v. C.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the trial court declining to award post-judgment interest pursuant to Ky. Rev. Stat. 360.040 in this action concerning a divorce judgment. Karen and James Samuel Doyle (Sam) were divorced in 1995. In 1998, the circuit court issued a judgment pertaining to reserved issues of child custody, support, and division of property. The judgment was silent as to interest. When Sam did make an equalization payment to Karen as ordered by circuit court, Karen filed a judgment lien against property owned by Sam, plus interest at the legal rate from 1998. In 2012, Sam moved to prohibit the collection of interest. The court granted the motion on the grounds that the 1998 judgment was unliquidated and the judgment was silent as to interest. Karen appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. On remand, the circuit court again denied an award of interest. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the balance of equities favored the statutory award of interest under the circumstances of this case. View "Doyle v. Doyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals in this appeal brought by both parties from a judgment in a paternity action. The Court held (1) a paternity action can be brought by a private attorney, and therefore, the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over this case; (2) attorneys’ fees are not recoverable in paternity actions, and therefore, the court of appeals erred in ruling that Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.220 provided a statutory avenue for attorneys’ fees in this case; and (3) the court of appeals properly concluded that a trial court has the discretionary authority to allow credits of “excess” dependent benefits toward pre-petition liabilities, but rather than simply upholding the district court’s allowance of the credit, the case must be remanded for further factual findings and a renewed determination of whether that credit is appropriate. View "Seeger v. Lanham" on Justia Law

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In Kentucky, an attorney’s contingent-fee contracts should be considered marital property to be divided as part of the equitable division of the marital estate, and trial courts must apply the delayed-distribution method to determine the actual distribution of funds. Husband had an active law practice in which he had executed contingent-fee contracts with some clients. When Husband and Wife divorced, the trial court treated the contingent-fee contracts as a component of Husband’s income when received and not as property of the marital estate subject to division. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings, holding (1) a contingent-fee contract in existence during the marriage does constitute marital property to be divided in a dissolution proceeding; and (2) trial court shall apply the delayed-division method to determine the distribution to the attorney and non-attorney ex-spouses. View "Grasch v. Grasch" on Justia Law