I am glad to announce that Matthew D. Henderson will be joining Troutman & Napier, PLLC as an associate attorney. Matthew comes to us from the Fayette County Attorney’s office. Prior to that, he served as Judge Philpot’s judicial intern in Fayette Family Court. He will be bringing tremendous skills and knowledge in areas of criminal law and family law as well as estate planning and general litigation. With the addition of Matthew, Troutman & Napier, PLLC offers a full range of services and practice areas for our clients.
I was recently asked by a reader about what kind of time-sharing he can expect with his daughter. He and the mother never married and he believes the mother is exerting excess control over his contact. I am uploading the Fayette County time-share guidelines as an example of typical time-sharing. If you open it and go to the end, you will see enhanced time-share for children under two years of age. This is a tiny step towards developmentally sensitive time-sharing. I am a proponent of developmental time-sharing and I hope to see these standard guidelines continue to move in that direction.
It is interesting to note, KRS 405.020 assigns joint custody to parents of a child as the default. A father of a child born out of wedlock starts out with joint custody as a matter of law. Mother’s tend to assume they have sole custody straight from the chute since they effectively have it during the pregnancy. In reality, the father gains custody at the moment of birth. As a practical matter, though, he must be able to show he is the father. This is either by birth certificate naming him as the father or a judgment.
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.
I wanted to post a brief follow-up to Paternity Pandemonium. Mr. Rhoades wrote a comment to that post that I encourage everyone to look at. I also wanted to link to TIME online article “Despite DNA, Dad’s Paternity Denied” that was provided to me by a reader. The article does not quite get the nuances of the law correct, but it gives more of the history and highlights the two broad views of this issue.
One camp is the Biology is Paternity camp which, in its extreme, denies any meaning of marriage in regards to children born during the marriage. Here, if one donates DNA, then some legal right is deemed to have arisen out of a single moment despite violating something every culture recognizes and values – a marriage. Usually in our jurisprudence, one does not get the benefit or gain from doing something wrong. However, we have decriminalized adultery and seduction while also turning to no-fault divorces. So, those in this camp would argue, there was no “wrong” done here in the eyes of the law and the courts should not be moral arbiters of such sexual behavior. Besides, the argument proceeds, it is not about punishment or equity, it is about a new life and what is best for that child.
The other camp would be the Sanctity of Marriage camp which, in its extreme, denies a biological father any standing to be in his child’s life. Here, the argument focuses on the preservation of the marriage and the assumption is made that the ongoing presence of the biological father will destroy what is already tenuous. Some would argue that the child should never know his genetic origin because it would be harmful to know he or she is the product of an illicit affair only creating an insecure sense of his or her place in the family.
As a father, I know I would not want to be denied contact with a child I fathered. As a husband, I understand protecting my family from those outside. This is why the SCOKY decision ultimately rests on the wording of a statute. Those of that opinion pulled into the safe harbor of avoiding the appearance of judicial activism by focusing on the exact language of the relevant laws. By doing so, they essentially said, this is a matter to be decided by the people through their representatives in the Kentucky General Assembly. That is where this debate really belongs.
Mr. Rhoades plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but I will be surprised if he wins. This is because the Kentucky decision is about subject matter jurisdiction and not about whether Mr. Rhoades is the biological father or not and the U.S. Supreme Court will most likely defer to the power of the State to determine such things. So, only the General Assembly can change the outcome for future Mr. Rhoades.
As for me, the one thing I am confident of is that our judicial system should not be morally mute and that there is basic right and wrong outside of the confines of our laws (there are varying degrees of judicial activism and I believe it should be constrained to areas where statutory laws are silent). I also tend toward the Sanctity of Marriage camp and believe that the marital union, which remains a spiritual union and not merely a civil matter in my mind, trumps biology. My hope for Mr. Rhoades is that he recognizes and atones for the damage he did by participating in an extramarital affair. My hope for baby JAR’s parents is that they are convicted that JAR’s interests are paramount and wrestle with whether denying him his biological father serves those interests best. I doubt that would be the wisest course of action, but the burden is upon them to arrive at the decision. I have these hopes because even though I believe that courts have moral authority where statutory law is silent, the most just results are often found outside the courtroom and they often come out of humility rather than force.
A recent Kentucky Supreme Court (SCOKY) case has created quite a stir in the webdom. In J.N.R. & J.S.R. v O’Reilly, 2007-SC-000175-MR (April 24, 2008)(to be published), SCOKY rebuked a man’s attempt to establish that he was the biological father of a child born in the marriage of the appellants. Apparently everyone is this case has a first name starting with J and a last name beginning with R, so this might get a little confusing. Here is the scorecard: JGR is the man trying to establish that he is the biological father and obtain a custody status, JAR is the child in the center of the contest, JNR is the mother/wife, and JSR is the legal father/husband.
JNR and JSR are married when JAR is born giving rise to the presumption that JSR is the father of JAR. JGR apparently engaged JNR in an extra-marital affair and believed he was the biological father of JAR. JGR apparently had DNA evidence that proved him to be the bio-dad and he had even had some visits with JAR. Despite the injury to the marriage, there was apparently some mighty powerful affection remaining and so JNR and JSR wanted to make a go of it and did not want JGR interfering. JGR, displaying persistence that would be admirable in other circumstances, filed a petition in Jefferson Family Court to establish paternity, custody and support. The family court allowed the action to proceed and also ordered some time-sharing. JNR and JSR filed a Writ of Prohibition with the Kentucky Court of Appeals (COA) and then with SCOKY when the COA failed to issue the writ.
A Writ of Prohibition is an action that can be taken when a lower court is about to do something that they really have no business doing (lack the legal authority to do) OR will cause irreparable harm to one or more of the parties if they are allowed to do it anyway. In this case, if JGR was allowed to establish a psychological bond with baby JAR, who was 3 months old, then there would be no way to undo it without additional harm to JAR. If JGR was allowed to establish paternity, then arguably, irreparable damage would be done to the marriage. The COA refused to issue the writ to stop the paternity proceeding because JNR and JSR failed to show irreparable harm to the marriage, but they did stop the visits. JNR and JSR then took their Writ to SCOKY who granted it and stopped everything.
JNR and JSR had a pretty smart lawyer who argued that the Family Court was acting OUTSIDE its authority and thus no irreparable harm showing was necessary. The reason that SCOKY gave for issuing the Writ of Prohibition on the paternity action was that the Family Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case. In other words, SCOKY agreed that the Family Court was acting outside its authority. This is significant because the decision, arguably, stands on statute alone and not on potentially shifting public policy. So, the Kentucky legislature would have to pass new legislation granting family courts jurisdiction in such a situation (unless a challenge to the existing statutes’ constitutionality is brought and won which is doubtful). The decision also suggests that even if the mother had initiated the action, the legal father/husband (or vice versa) could stop the matter from ever being heard unless they could establish that the marital relationship had ended (at least show no sex) ten months prior.
The case itself provides a more in-depth analysis of the statutes in play, but for our purposes, the whole thing turns on the use of the phrase “born out of wedlock” in the jurisdictional statute KRS 406.051. A child born to a married woman can be “born out of wedlock”, but only with a showing that the marital relationship ceased to exist ten (10) months prior to birth of the child. JGR failed to make a showing that JAR was born out of wedlock. Kentucky’s KRS 406.051 does differ from the 1960 Uniform Act on Paternity by narrowing the definition. This evidences the public policy espoused by the General Assembly for the protection of the marriage over those of the contributor of chromosomes. This public policy has shown signs of shifting in recent years coinciding with the more accurate DNA testing as compared to simple blood typing from decades ago.
SCOKY also rejected the argument that subject matter jurisdiction could arise fromt he KRS 403 chapter governing the dissolution of marriage and child custody. The bottom line is that producing a child with a married woman gives a poor prognosis for establishing paternity and is an inadvisable course of action in any circumstance.
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