Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Kentucky Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the family court naming Terry Garvin and Donna Krieger K.R.K.'s de facto custodians and awarding them sole permanent custody, holding that the court of appeals erred in holding that individuals who are members of an unmarried couple cannot both be deemed as a child's de facto custodians. The family court named as K.R.K.'s de facto custodians Terry, K.R.K.'s maternal grandfather, and his long-term girlfriend, Donna, with whom he cohabited, and awarded them sole permanent custody. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that the family court erred in naming more than one individual as K.R.K.'s de facto custodian. Specifically, the court held that because Terry and Donna were unmarried, they could not qualify as a single unit for purposes of Ky. Rev. Stat. 403.270. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that Terry and Donna were not precluded form being K.R.K.'s de facto custodians simply because they were an unmarried couple. View "Krieger v. Marvin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals vacating and remanding the family court's decision determining that K.S.'s son was a neglected child and terminating K.S.'s parental rights, holding that the family court's decision was supported by clear and convincing evidence. In vacating the family court's judgment terminating the parental rights of K.S. the court of appeals concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove the child was neglected because K.S. never had the opportunity to parent the child independently where the child had always been committed to the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred to the extent it held there must be actual past or present abuse or neglect for a trial court to make a finding of abuse or neglect because proof of a potential threat of abuse or neglect is sufficient to support such a finding; and (2) the family court's decision to terminate K.S.'s parental rights was supported by the record. View "Commonwealth v. K.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling 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, holding that Kentucky courts are not required to engage in SIJ status factfinding. The family court determined that it was without the jurisdictional authority to undertake SIJ findings because such findings were not relevant to the core dependency, neglect, and abuse issues before the court. The mother appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by not making the findings required for SIJ status. The court of appeals agreed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the General Assembly has not specifically directed Kentucky's courts to make SIJ findings, and therefore, the family could need not make additional findings relevant to the child's SIJ classification, upon request, in every case; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the proper place for SIJ status factfinding was in federal immigration court. View "Commonwealth v. N.B.D." on Justia Law

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In this dependency, neglect, and abuse proceeding the Supreme Court vacated the order of the court of appeals reversing the family court's decision denying an indigent mother's request for expert funding and finding the child to be a neglected child, holding that the court of appeals lacked jurisdiction. After the family court made a finding of neglect, the mother failed timely to file her notice of appeal. The family court, however, permitted a belated appeal, citing excusable neglect. In reversing the family court's expert funding decision, the court of appeals found that the mother's due process rights were impacted by her inability to hire an expert. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' order, holding that the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the mother's appeal because the mother failed timely to file her appeal, and there was no excusable neglect in this case. View "Commonwealth v. H.C." on Justia Law

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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