Murphy v. Murphy, Ky COA, Modification Of Custody, Notice

Murphy v. Murphy, --S.W.3d – (Ky. App. 2008), 2007-CA-002298-ME

The parties shared joint custody and equal parenting time of their three children. More than a year after the parties’ last interaction with the court, the father moved to modify custody. He mailed the motion/notice to the mother’s attorney of record. The mother’s attorney of record then filed a Notice of Nonrepresentation, stating that she no longer represented the mother, but had mailed a copy of the motion to her last known address.

The court held the modification hearing without the mother, or any legal representative, present, since the mother had an attorney of record. The father even told the court that the mother’s current address was different than the one her attorney of record had mailed the motion to. The court saw no need to take any proof regarding the change of custody in the mother’s absence, and sustained the motion to grant the father sole custody of the children. The mother only learned of the hearing and order afterwards, when the father contacted her to pick up the children.

About a week after the hearing, the mother finally received the motion/notice that her attorney of record had sent. The next day, the mother filed a pro se motion to alter, amend or vacate the judgment, which the court denied. The parties subsequently entered an agreed order regarding parenting time, allowing the mother weekend and Wednesday night visitation. The mother then renewed her motion to alter, amend, or vacate and asked the court to appoint her a GAL. The court denied both motions. The mother appealed.

The mother’s first claim of error was the court failed to find that the father’s motion for change of custody warranted a hearing. The COA found that the father alleged sufficient grounds to justify a hearing.

The mother’s second claim of error was the court, knowing that notice was highly questionable, erroneously allowed the hearing to go forward without her presence. The COA reversed for lack of notice. Conclusion of the divorce action terminated the attorney-client relationship, therefore service of notice on the mother’s attorney of record did not effectuate service on the mother. In addition, once the attorney filed the Notice of Nonrepresentation, a new hearing date should have been set and service made directly on the mother.

The mother’s final claim of error was the court modified custody without finding a change in circumstances or best interests of the children as required by KRS 403.340(3). As there were no affidavits, no testimony, and no findings by the court, the COA reversed and remanded for a hearing and the statutorily required findings.

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