Discretionary Review Granted By Kentucky Supreme Court In Another Relocation Case; It Makes Three Move Away Cases Pending

When we link to a case (usually by simply highlighting the case in red, although that may change soon to make it more obvious) if the status of the case has changed, the link will be to the newest online version. That's how we discovered discretionary review was granted August !5, 2007 in Rankin v. Coffman, digested here. Unless the parties have the same last name or the case involves initials or the case name rings a bell, it is difficult to quickly note of the grants of discretionary review which involve family law. While the case indicates it is about jurisdiction, it really is about relocation of a child. The child was moved from Hardin County to Louisville when the relocation was granted and then forced by the court to return to Hardin County. We hope this case gets expedited and heard with Frances v. Frances, digested here and Pennington v. Marcum, digested here. Post Fenwick v. Fenwick, 114 S.W.3d 767 (Ky.2003), a real mistake if there ever was one, relocation law has been a nightmare, evidenced by the large number of appeals on this issue. What could be so difficult about articulating a standard that if a parent wants to move a child, he/she must give a certain amount of notice and that the standard to be applied will be the best interests of the child? Um, well, our statutes have caused havoc.
In Robinson v. Robinson, 211 S.W.3d 63,68 (Ky. App. 2006) the court noted:

Child custody relocation litigation is not a new phenomenon in Kentucky. See, e.g., Duncan v. Duncan, 293 Ky. 762, 170 S.W.2d 22, 154 A.L.R. 549 (1943)( “[S]ole question presented ... is whether the chancellor erred in modifying the judgment so as to permit [the custodial parent] to move to Pennsylvania and take the children with her.”). The arrival of the 21st century, however, heralded an accelerated evolution in this area of the law. This is true nationally as well as in Kentucky where our courts continue to address increasing numbers of such cases. Unfortunately, despite Kentucky's recent legislative efforts, Chapter 403 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes (Dissolution of Marriage Child Custody) fails to specifically address the special problem faced by our courts when custodial parents desire to relocate with their children subsequent to divorce.
The vast majority of state legislatures has passed a wide variety of laws directly addressing the relocation issue; nearly half require a relocating custodial parent to give advance notice of the move to the other parent, the court, or both. Kentucky is among the minority of states that have no specific statute. Therefore, until our legislature aligns with the majority of states, we are compelled to address relocation/custody issues by applying the general custodial modification statutes, KRS 403.340 and KRS 403.350.
KRS 403.340(2) states:

No motion to modify a custody decree shall be made earlier than two (2) years after its date, unless the court permits it to be made on the basis of affidavits that there is reason to believe that:

(a) The child's present environment may endanger seriously his physical, mental, moral, or emotional health; or
(b) The custodian appointed under the prior decree has placed the child with a de facto custodian.

KRS 403.340(2). The companion statute, KRS 403.350, states, in pertinent part:
A party seeking ... modification of a custody decree shall submit together with his moving papers an affidavit setting forth facts supporting the requested ... modification and shall give notice, together with a copy of his affidavit, to other parties to the proceeding, who may file opposing affidavits.... The court shall deny the motion unless it finds that adequate cause for hearing the motion is established by the affidavits, in which case it shall set a date for hearing on an order to show cause why the requested order or modification should not be granted.

[1] Taken together, these statutes establish certain clear prerequisites to the modification of a prior custody decree where the modification is sought earlier than two years after its entry. Specifically, the motion to modify “must be accompanied by at least two affidavits. [Citation omitted]. If the applicable requirement is not met, the circuit court is without authority to entertain the motion.” Petrey v. Cain, 987 S.W.2d 786, 788 (Ky.1999). The filing of affidavits, therefore, is a jurisdictional requirement. Crouch v. Crouch, 201 S.W.3d 463, 465 (Ky.2006)(“[T]rial court had no jurisdiction to modify the [permanent custody] order unless a motion to modify, along with a supporting affidavit, was filed in the case.”).

The court also foot-noted the following:

FN4. Linda D. Elrod, Feature, States Differ on Relocation, 28 Fam. Advoc. 8, 8 (Spring 2006)(“Lawyers and judges have noticed the increase in the number of custody disputes in which relocation is an issue. The reasons are many: the steady high-divorce rate; the number of joint-custody and shared-residency arrangements; the shifting job market; remarriages; and the mobility of today's society.”).

FN5. Despite the Supreme Court's comment in Fenwick v. Fenwick, 114 S.W.3d 767 (Ky.2003) that “the relocation issue, at least in the context of sole custody, has been addressed and settled in Kentucky for more than a decade,” Id. at 784, Kentucky law in this area continues to evolve at a fast pace. Since 2000, the Kentucky appellate courts have addressed relocation/custody issues in some form in the following cases: Crouch v. Crouch, 201 S.W.3d 463 (Ky.2006); Brockman v. Craig, 205 S.W.3d 2444 (Ky.App.2006), mot. for disc. rev. filed, (Ky. Aug. 15, 2006) (No. 2006-SC-587-D); Bowman v. Bowman, --- S.W.3d ----, 2006 WL 658938 (Ky.App.2006)(Opinion Final, May 5, 2006); Allen v. Devine, 178 S.W.3d 517 (Ky.App.2005); Cox v. Cox, 170 S.W.3d 389 (Ky.2005); Fowler v. Sowers, 151 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Ky.App.2004); Fenwick v. Fenwick, 114 S.W.3d 767, 779 (Ky.2003); Scheer v. Zeigler, 21 S.W.3d 807 (Ky.App.2000). We could add to that list a fair number of unpublished opinions.

FN6. In 2001, child custody litigation in Kentucky was significantly affected when the state legislature amended KRS 403.340. The effect of the amendment was to soften custody modification requirements when a motion for modification is filed more than two years after the decree is entered. Fowler v. Sowers, 151 S.W.3d 357, 359 (Ky.App.2004). For modification within two (2) years of the award of permanent custody, the standard remains as strict now as prior to the amendment.

FN7. The following states require 30 days' notice prior to relocation: Florida (Fla. Stat. § 61.13001(3)(2006)), Georgia (Ga.Code Ann. § 19-9-1 (2006)), Kansas (Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-1620 (2006)), Maine (Me.Rev.Stat.Ann. tit.19-A, §§ 1653(14) & 1657 (2006)), Montana (Mont.Code Ann. § 40-4-217 (2006)), New Mexico (N.M. Stat. § 40-4-9.1 (2006)), and Virginia (Va.Code Ann. § 20-124.5 (2006)). These states require 45 days' notice: Alabama (Ala.Code § 30-3-163 to 167 (2006)), California (Cal. Fam.Code § 3024 (2006)) and Maryland (Md.Code Ann., Fam. Law § 9-106 (2006)). States requiring 60 days' notice are: Arizona (Ariz.Rev.Stat. § 25-408 (2006)), Louisiana (La.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 9:355.4 (2006)), Missouri (Mo.Rev.Stat. § 452.377 (2006)), New Hampshire (N.H.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 458:23-a (2006)), Tennessee (Tenn.Code Ann. § 36-6-108 (2006)), Utah (Utah Code Ann. § 30-3-37 (2006)), Washington (Wash. Rev.Code §§ 26.09.405, et seq. (2006)), West Virginia (W.Va.Code § 48-9-403 (2006)) and Wisconsin (Wis. Stat. § 767.481 (2006)). The 2006 session of the Indiana legislature recently enacted a 90-day notice requirement (Ind.Code Ann. § 31-17-2.2-3 (2006)). “Reasonable” notice is required in Colorado (Colo.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 14-10-129 (2006)) and Oregon (Or.Rev.Stat. Ann. § 107.159 (2006)). Finally, the following states specifically address the relocation issue without implementing a notice requirement: Illinois (750 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 5/609 (2006)), Iowa (Iowa Code Ann. § 598.21D (2006)), Massachusetts (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 208, § 30 (2006)), Michigan (Mich. Comp. Laws § 722.31 (2006)), Minnesota (Minn.Stat. § 518.195, Subd. 7 (2006)), Nevada (Nev.Rev.Stat. § 125C.200 (2006)), New Jersey (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 9:2-2 (2006)) and North Dakota (N.D. Cent.Code § 14-09-07 (2006)).

It's clearly time for our legislature to address the problem. (The AMML Model Relocation Act, anyone?) Meanwhile, we'll see if our Supremes have a magic wand.