FAMILY LAW – Grandparents, custody, jurisdiction between states: George Mauldin; and Joyce Mauldin v. Rebecca Bearden (SC 8/27/2009)

George Mauldin; and Joyce Mauldin v. Rebecca Bearden
2008-SC-000557-DGE August 27, 2009
Opinion by Justice Noble; all sitting.

In 2005, the Jefferson Family Court awarded paternal grandparents temporary, and later permanent, custody of an infant whose parents were deemed to be abusive and alcoholic. The grandparents took the child to Alabama where they resided. In 2006, the grandparents filed a petition in Alabama to adopt the child. The child’s mother filed a CR 60.02 motion in Jefferson Family Court to set aside the permanent custody award, alleging the grandparents and the child’s father 7 conspired to fraudulently keep her away from the custody proceedings. The family court denied the CR 60.02 motion and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the mother’s subsequent motion for visitation—deferring to the Alabama courts. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded back to the family court for a full evidentiary hearing on the CR 60.02 motion.

The Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the family court’s decision, holding it was not an abuse of discretion for the family court to take the allegations in the affidavit on their face and not hold a hearing. The Court noted that testimony on the issues would not have fundamentally changed the allegations. Further, the Court noted that the family court had dealt with the parties extensively and was in a position to judge the parties’ credibility without holding a hearing. Furthermore, the Court ruled that the mother had not identified a meritorious defense–a prerequisite for vacating a judgment under CR 60.02. The Court noted that the mother never appealed the family court’s custody ruling and could not now substitute a CR 60.02 motion for an appeal. Finally, the Court held that even though the family court mistakenly allowed the grandparents to pursue custody under KRS Chapter 403 rather than Chapter 620, it had correctly deferred jurisdiction on the visitation issue to the Alabama courts. Chief Justice Minton concurred in result only.