Extending Hicks v. Enlow’s Stepparent Adoption Exception to Circumstances Where Child Is Adopted by Another Grandparent – Published Opinion from Supreme Court of Ky.

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Blackaby v. Barnes

Shelby Circuit Court

Questions Presented: Grandparent visitation. Adoption. Under circumstances involving a maternal grandmother’s adoption of a child which was being contested by the father at the time of his death, with no notice to the paternal grandfather of either the adoption proceeding or the possibility that ongoing visitation would not continue, the Court extends the stepparent adoption exception carved out in Hicks v. Enlow, 764 S.W.2d 68 (Ky. 1989).

Maternal Grandmother petitioned to adopt Child. Mother consented to the adoption, but Father contested it. Before the adoption was finalized, Father died. Family Court granted Maternal Grandmother’s petition. Prior to, during, and after the adoption, Paternal Grandfather enjoyed visitation with Child, including overnight visitation. At some point, Maternal Grandmother unilaterally stopped the visitation between Child and Paternal Grandfather. Paternal Grandfather petitioned for grandparent visitation pursuant to KRS 405.021. Family Court, after receiving briefing, dismissed the petition for lack of standing, finding that Paternal Grandfather’s grandparent rights terminated upon finalization of the adoption, because Hicks v. Enlow, 764 S.W.2d 68 (Ky. 1989), held that grandparent rights do not extend to adoption which are not stepparent adoptions. Paternal Grandfather appealed, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed Family Court. Paternal Grandfather sought discretionary review, which was granted.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky reversed Family Court and extended the stepparent exception recognized in Hicks in these particular circumstances where a grandparent’s adoption of a child which was being contested by a parent at the time of his/her death, with no notice to the other grandparent of either the adoption proceeding or the possibility that ongoing visitation would not continue. Hicks held that the termination of parental rights also terminate any grandparents’ visitation rights, except for in stepparent adoptions. KRS 405.021 was later amended to continue grandparent visitation that was established prior to the termination of parental rights. The plain meaning of the adoption statute, the grandparent visitation statute, and the holding in Hicks lead to an absurd and unreasonable result in this matter, divesting another grandparent of visitation with a child without consideration the child’s best interests. Furthermore, the grandparent does not receive notice of the adoption and cannot know that his/her visitation rights may be at risk. It would be illogical and unjust to sever the relationship in this matter without determining whether such severance would be in Child’s best interests.

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon

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