Custody hearing without representation: LONDON V. COLLINS (COA 11/30/2007)

LONDON V. COLLINS
FAMILY LAW:  CUSTODY HEARING
2007-CA-000529
TO BE PUBLISHED: VACATING AND REMANDING
PANEL: HOWARD PRESIDING; NICKELL, TAYLOR CONCUR
COUNTY: JEFFERSON
DATE RENDERED: 11/30/2007

Child resided primarily with Mom until she was removed in a dependency action. At the temporary removal hearing Dad agreed that it would be best that the child temporarily reside with a member of Mom’s family. Shortly thereafter Mom died. At what was supposed to be a pre-trial conference a social worker incorrectly informed the TC that Dad had agreed that permanent custody should be awarded to the temporary custodian (custodian). Dad was not represented by counsel, his custodial rights were not explained to him, and the TC did not question him about his wishes regarding custody. Approximately a year later dad filed a petition for custody. The TC held that the custodian was a de facto custodian, that she had equal standing with Dad, and that Dad had failed to meet the statutory requirements to modify custody. The trial court also held that because Dad did not object when the permanency order was entered he waived his custody.

CA held that while Dad was present when custody was awarded to the custodian it was likely he did not understand what was occurring. The CA opined that while a parent can waive his parental rights that waiver should not occur by accident because a party does not understand the proceedings. Dad’s silence at the pre-trial conference did not constitute a waiver of his parental rights. Additionally, the CA held that since no evidence was taken at the hearing on Dad’s petition for custody there could be no finding that the custodian was a de facto custodian. Regarding the permanency order, the CA held that a permanency order in a dependency action may qualify as a custody decree. However, to be considered a valid custody decree it must be based on the standards set forth in KRS 403.279(2). The TC took no evidence upon which it could have found that the custody placement was in the child’s best interest and therefore did not meet the elements of KRS 403.279(2). Because the order in the dependency action was not a custody decree, as envisioned by KRS Chapter 403, it was not necessary that the requirements of KRS 403.340(2) be met in order to modify custody.

Digested by Linda Dixon Bullock, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates

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