Coffman v. Rankin, Ky Child Custody Modification, Standard To Be Applied; Jurisdiction

Coffman v. Rankin, –S.W.3d– (Ky. 2008), 2007-SC-000348-DGE

Coffman v. Rankin, –S.W.3d– (Ky. 2008), 2007-SC-000348-DGE

The parties divorced in 2001 and were granted joint custody of their two minor children. The mother was named primary residential custodian. In 2004, the father filed a motion to modify the custody decree due to his concerns regarding the mother’s intention to move with the children and her engagement to an individual with past mental and addiction problems. During the pendency of the action, the mother was granted permission to relocate from Hardin County to Jefferson County with the children and her, now, new husband. An evidentiary hearing was held in 2006 and the Family Court named the father the primary residential custodian based on the best interests of the child standard. After the mother’s motion to alter, amend, or vacate was overruled, she appealed. The COA held that the Family Court abused its discretion and proceeded without subject matter jurisdiction, and therefore reversed the Family Court’s ruling.
The SC granted discretionary review. The SC found that the Family Court did have subject matter jurisdiction, since the Family Court determined that the moving papers were sufficient. It also found that the Family Court did not abuse its discretion, as the Family Court issued a thorough findings of fact and conclusions of law in excess of 16 pages.

Dissenting Opinion: It was an abuse of discretion in the trial court’s finding that there was substantial evidence to justify a change of custody. The evidence showed that the children are doing well with their mother. The majority of the fact finding concerned the new husband’s past instability. However, there was no evidence that the new husband had suffered any problems during his relationship with the mother or in the last five years. The trial court based its findings on speculation of what might occur in the future. Also, KRS 403.270(3) was completely ignored, as there was no evidence that the mother’s new relationship has affected her relationship with the children. More proof was needed to justify uprooting the children from their mother’s care.
Digested by Sarah Jost Nielsen, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates

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