Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

Counsel with Care

De Facto Custodian and Guardianship

The Court of Appeals of Kentucky recently rendered its opinion in McCary v. Mitchell, 2007-CA-000322-DG (Aug. 1, 2008)(to be published) which clarifies a point of law regarding the status of de facto custodian. A de facto custodian is a person who has provided the primary car of a child and the primary financial support of that child for a certain period of time (6 months for children under 3 years or 1 year if 3 years and older or placed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services). See KRS 403.270 for a more detailed definition.

In the McCary case, a four year old little girl’s (B.E.M.) mother had been killed by her father, Samuel. Sam was indicted for the 2001 murder, but he did not plead guilty until 2005. During those four years, Sam had guardianship of B.E.M. but the case alludes that she actually resided with paternal aunt and uncle McCary. The maternal aunt and uncle Mitchell had sought custody of B.E.M. early on, but the Graves County District Court had determined it was a guardianship action and left that in the hands of Sam because of the presumption of innocence. The Mitchells resumed their guardianship action once Sam was sentenced.

At first glance, it appears that the de facto custodian provision would apply and give the McCarys equal standing as a parent because B.E.M. had lived with them for the requisite time and, presumably, she had received primary financial support from them. The Court never reaches those factual inquiries because they state that the entire de facto custodian status does not apply in this case. The Court appears to offer two bases for this holding. First, they say that KRS 403.270(1)(b) expressly limits application to dissolution of marriage situations. The second basis is that the de facto custodian provision applies to disputes between a parent or parents and a third party care provider. This makes sense because when a dispute is between two non-parent care providers there is no presumption giving one a superior right. The de facto custodian provision was created to address situations where a non-parent care provider nearly always lost to a parent even if that parent had never been in a caretaker role of the child.

I suspect there would have been an entirely different result had the McCarys sought custody of B.E.M. after caring for her for a year. Had they initiated an action then, they would have been fighting against dad and been on equal footing with dad who was indicted for murder. I also suspect that had they been found to be de facto custodians in that custody action, they would have been in a superior position when the Mitchells pursued their action.

This case highlights some of the vagaries of family law and the need for developing alternate strategies in any particular matter. The various laws that impact family life do not mesh well together leaving open many possible results and surprises.

September 1, 2008 Posted by | child custody, Custody, Family Law, Guardianship | , , , , , | 11 Comments