Ky Court of Appeals Published Opinion Today: Grandparent Custody and Child Support

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LAMBERT V. LAMBERT

Maternal grandfather who resided in Kentucky took possession of grandchildren whose mother resided in Pennsylvania, after mother took the children for a visit and never returned to retrieve the children. Grandfather filed a dependency, neglect, and abuse proceeding and was granted temporary custody of the children.

Grandfather subsequently filed a petition for child custody. After a hearing, the court granted custody to grandfather. Mother appealed arguing the court did not have jurisdiction, erred by granting custody without permitting her to present her case, considered inadmissible hearsay, and erred by ordering her to pay child support without evidence of income.

The Court of Appeals looks to KRS 403.822 and holds that the court had jurisdiction to grant grandfather custody. The KRS 403.800(7) definition home state is met as 1) the children had been living in Kentucky for over six consecutive months prior to the filing of the petition, and 2) grandfather was a person acting as a parent as he was awarded temporary custody in the dependency action.  Grandfather did not need to have de facto custodian status to bring an action for child custody.

Next the Court of Appeals looks to mother’s argument that the court erred by granting custody without permitting her to present her case. Mother was present, although under the influence of cocaine, at the custody hearing. As she made no attempt to offer any proof or evidence and did not objection to the guardian ad litem’s motion to grant grandfather custody or the entry of the decree, the alleged error is not considered by the Court of Appeals as it was not preserved for review. Notwithstanding, the court notes a directed verdict was appropriate given the evidence of mother’s conduct.

The court then considers mother’s hearsay argument. Mother argued that it was hearsay for the Kentucky social worker to testify as to information provided by the Pennsylvania social worker. The court finds it was likely inadmissible hearsay, but finds it was a harmless error. Mother also argued it was hearsay for the court to take judicial notice of the dependency action. Judicial notice was proper under KRE 201(b). The Court of Appeals holds this argument has no merit as judicial records are not subject to reasonable dispute and also admissible as public records.

Finally, mother argues that the court erred by ordering her to pay child support without evidence of income. The court imputed mother with minimum wage without hearing any evidence, despite the fact that mother has two other children under the age of three. The Court of Appeals finds the trial court abused its discretion by imputing minimum wage to mother in light of her caring for children under the age of three and order the court to input mother’s income at zero and order the minimum $60 child support award on remand.

Digested by Elizabeth M. Howell

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