Parents In Kentucky Family Courts Frequently Battle Over School Issues


How does your child's school/district rank?

In this blog, I devote regular space to common issues arising out of family court disputes in Kentucky, including family courts based in Louisville and LaGrange. Where children attend school is one such common dispute litigated frequently.

NO. 2016-CA-001416-MR Kentucky Court of Appeals Stoneberger v. Stevenson, unpublished opinion Decided August 11, 2017

In this unpublished opinion, the Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a trial court’s order that the parties’ child attend school from the father’s home in Kentucky. The mother lived in Illinois. The dispute arose as the child neared kindergarten and her parents lived in two separate states.

An excerpt from the case follows:

“The standard of review in a child custody case is whether the trial court's factual findings are clearly erroneous. B.C. v. B.T., 182 S.W.3d 213 (Ky. App. 2005). Findings of fact may be set aside only if they are clearly erroneous. Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure (CR) 52.01. And, a factual finding is not clearly erroneous if it is supported by substantial evidence. Reichle v. Reichle, 719 S.W.2d 442, 444 (Ky. 1986).

Substantial evidence is evidence sufficient to induce conviction in the mind of a reasonable person. Moore v. Asente, 110 S.W.3d 336, 354 (Ky. 2003). Hence, a finding of fact is viewed as clearly erroneous if not supported by substantial evidence of a probative value. Black Motor Co. v. Greene, 385 S.W.2d 954 (Ky. 1964).

“If the findings are supported by substantial evidence, then appellate review is limited to whether the facts support the legal conclusions made by the finder of fact.” London v. Collins, 242 S.W.3d 351, 354 (Ky. App. 2007). The test for the reviewing court is not whether it would have come to a different conclusion, but whether the trial court applied the correct law and whether the trial court abused its discretion. B.C., 182 S.W.3d at 219-20. Abuse of discretion implies arbitrary and capricious action that results in an unreasonable and unfair decision. Sherfey v. Sherfey, 74 S.W.3d 777, 783 (Ky. App. 2002), overruled on other grounds by Benet v. Commonwealth, 253 S.W.3d 528 (Ky. 2008). With this standard in mind, we now turn to the case at hand. Maxwell v. Maxwell, 382 S.W.3d 892, 895 (Ky. App. 2012).

Our review of the record (including the four-hour hearing) indicates that, although Rachel testified about the attributes of the Bridgeport School System as well as addressed her fears and concerns about the Bend Gate School, she placed no other proof in the record regarding the benefits versus burdens of the two kindergartens. Kevin, on the other hand, produced as a witness the principal of Bend Gate Elementary School. The principal testified about the class sizes, the school’s statewide ranking, the physical layout of the school, the daily schedule, the special needs programs offered on site, and the procedures for testing the parties’ child once school began. The principal had already chosen a classroom and teacher (one with thirty years’ experience as a kindergarten teacher) for the child. The principal had met the child on two occasions and had witnessed the interactions with her father and half-brother. Both parties testified about the proximity of each school to their respective households and places of employment. Kevin, who no longer works outside the home, was available on a daily basis to pick up the child if necessity required it. Rachel, on the other hand, was an hour closer to the Henderson County school on days that she worked. If an issue arose at Bridgeport on a day when Rachel and her husband were working, she would have to resort to her parents or her in-laws to pick up the child from school.

The circuit court expressed its frustration with the Bridgeport School System’s website: the court had attempted to glean independent information from that website in order to compare the two proposed kindergartens. The circuit court also voiced its concern over valuable instruction hours lost if the child continues Easter Seals therapy during the school day.

We find neither clear error nor abuse of discretion in the circuit court’s decision to allow the child to be enrolled in Bend Gate Elementary School. Maxwell, supra.

Call Jason Dattilo, an experienced family law attorney practicing in family courts of Jefferson, Oldham, and the surrounding counties.

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