Leach v. Harrison, Ky COA, Standing Of Non-Parents (Not Defacto Custodians)To Petiton For Custody

Leach v. Harrison, __ S.W.3d __ (Ky. App. 2009)


   More than eight investigations were opened regarding the mother’s abuse and neglect of her three minor children, including excessive corporal punishment.  Due to the ongoing investigations, all three of the children were eventually placed with the maternal grandparents on a temporary basis. The maternal grandparents filed for permanent sole custody of the children.  DRC recommended that father have custody of the children, the grandparents have visitation, and that mother be allowed to regain her visitation rights.  The trial court rejected the DRC’s recommendations and granted permanent sole custody to the grandparents and allowed the father unsupervised visitation.  Father appealed.  The mother of the children stipulated to neglect in the trial court and did not appeal. 

    COA never reached the merits of the case.  It vacated and remanded based on lack of jurisdiction.  Both parties stipulated before the hearing that the grandparents were not de facto custodians.  The right of a non-parent, other than a de facto custodian, to have standing to petition for custody used to be set forth in KRS 403.420, which was part of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA).  The UCCJA was repealed in 2004 and replaced by the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).  No provision or statute currently in effect allows a third party, who is not a de facto custodian, to have standing to petition for custody.  Without jurisdiction, the Court had no power to do anything.  COA ordered the children to remain in the care of the grandparents pursuant to a previous order.  It also noted that if the children remained in the temporary custody of the grandparents for a continuous year following the conclusion of the proceedings, the grandparents would have standing as de facto custodians.  

    Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates