Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

Counsel with Care

Paternity Pandemonium III

After reflecting on the recent decision in J.N.R. v. O’Reilly that I posted on here and here, I recognized a troubling conundrum in the law. I will expound with a hypothetical situation beginning where the JNR case leaves off. Absolutely no offense is intended towards the real parties in the real JNR case; this is purely hypothetical:

    Where the real case leaves off is with biological father (“BioDad”) unable to get any relief because the trial court has no jurisdiction to proceed. In the hypothetical, the legal father (“LawDad”) has to work two jobs to pay the legal fees that accrued defending against BioDad’s petition and the ensuing appeals. Because of the stress of this, he develops a drinking problem and becomes estranged from his wife. A divorce occurs and biologcial mother (“BioMom”) gets sole custody. BioMom becomes depressed and, as a result of deep depression, neglects the child (“Child”). Child is removed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services after being found wandering along a busy highway after sneaking out of the house while mom was in a depressed stupor. The Cabinet dutifully seeks out a relative to care for Child, but the only known relative is LawDad whom they find passed out on his front porch after a night of drunken debauchery. Because of LawDad’s double D dysfunction, he cannot have the child placed with him or gain custody.

    Now, the stage is set and Child goes into foster care. Because BioDad was denied the opportunity to assert paternity, he has not been judicially found to be a parent. KRS 610.020 requires the Petition to name “parents”, but BioMom and LawDad are still sore about the whole lawsuit thing and never bring BioDad up. Furthermore, KRS 610.040 does not require that he be notified. So, Child is in foster care for the next 15 months because BioMom and LawDad are more focused on sniping at each other than regaining custody of Child.

    Next, the Cabinet files a petition for the involuntary termination of parental rights of BioMom and LawDad on behalf of Child. Still, the Cabinet has no idea about BioDad because they never read this blawg and are unfamiliar with this case. Interestingly, KRS 625.060 requires that “biological parents” are made parties to the action, but only “if known”. Here is where the hypothetical has different possible outcomes.

    Outcome 1: Parental rights are terminated to BioMom and LawDad and Child spends the rest of his childhood going from foster home to foster home, or perhaps is adopted and lives happily ever after, but always dreams of being with his “real” parents. BioDad sees him years later with the adoptive family and finally learns of all those events, but he can do nothing. In the worst case scenario, adoptive parents are actually sadists bent on mentally torturing Child. Best case scenario is that they are great parents and is relatively unharmed by all these events.

    Outcome 2: BioDad finds out and moves to intervene in the termination of parental rights. Now, we are back at the starting point and the court has to determine whether he has standing to intervene under this separate set of statutes. Arguably he would have standing because the statute specifically mentions “biological parents”. This, then, is a huge inconsistency in the paternity laws of kentucky. Regardless, he still has a huge hurdle to overcome because the termination of parental rights statute, KRS 625.090 has no safe harbour provision that would protect BioDad due to his lack of knowledge of the events. In other words, neglect or abuse never has to of been alleged against BioDad. The statute is a list of events, sometimes totally out of the control of the parent, and if one and only one of these events are checked off, then termination can occur. BioDad could be the best dad in the world, but if Child was found to be neglected by clear and convincing evidence, has been in foster care 15 out of the last 22 months (even if it is the Cabinet’s fault for not having enough workers to move the case along), and the judge believes it is in the child’s best interest (purely subjective), then his parental rights could be terminated without him ever getting to exercise them.

Give the above scenario, as unlikely as it is, I have had to reflect on the JNR decision because of the far reaching consequences. I hope that the General Assembly will take up this issue to rectify this legal inconsistency.

May 14, 2008 - Posted by | Civil Procedure, Divorce, Family Law, Parenting, Paternity | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Greg, very thought provoking post. Diana

    Comment by Diana L. Skaggs | May 15, 2008 | Reply

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