Adopting a child can be an exciting time in the life of a family. If you are considering adoption, you will need the assistance of an experienced attorney. Whether you are pursuing a domestic adoption or stepparent adoption, please contact my office for more information.
Stepparent adoptions are one the most common type of adoptions. In a stepparent adoption, one parent’s spouse becomes a legal parent and takes on legal and financial responsibilities for the spouse’s child. In order for the stepparent to adopt the child, the biological parent’s rights must first be terminated. The biological parent’s rights can be terminated voluntarily, in which case the parent usually signs a written consent to the adoption, thus allowing the termination and adoption to happen in the same court hearing. The parents’ rights can also be involuntarily terminated by proving one or more of the following grounds for termination: the parent has abandoned the child for not less than ninety (90) days, for a period of not less than six (6) months has continuously or repeatedly, failed or refused to provide or has been substantially incapable of providing essential care and protection for the child, and for other reasons as set forth in Kentucky statute. An important thing to realize is that once the stepparent adoption is granted, there is no way to reverse it. If the parents later divorce, the adopting stepparent could become obligated to pay child support.
Divorce can be one of the most traumatic events you may ever experience. Even an uncontested divorce can cause extreme emotional distress. If you are facing a divorce, you need the help of an attorney who can help you get past the emotions to focus on the legal and financial issues at hand. Family law attorney Cathi Harrison can hold your hand every step of the way, from dividing marital assets to establishing child support, custody and visitation arrangements.
What is the difference between a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce?
A contested divorce is one in which the couple cannot reach an agreement on one or more issues, including child custody and property division, and they must eventually have the court settle their remaining issues.
An uncontested divorce simply means the couple agrees on all the issues. However, this does not necessarily mean all uncontested divorces are amicable. Rather, uncontested means that all disputed items raised between the couple were settled out of court and without the requirement of a hearing. The advantages of an uncontested divorce include: they are generally resolved much quicker, less expensive, less stressful, and more convenient.
A will, also known as a Last Will and Testament, allows a person to decide exactly how you want your property distributed after your death, whether it be to family members, charitable organizations, or other persons or organizations. A will also allows you to name a guardian to care for your minor children upon your untimely death, and appoint trustee to manage any property or assets you leave to your minor children. Lastly, you can appoint an executor, who will be responsible for handling your estate and making sure the terms of your will are carried out.
What happens if I die without a will?
Under Kentucky’s rules of “intestacy”, if you die without a will, your property will be inherited by your closest relatives, beginning with your spouse and children. Often, this is not what a person would intend to happen. For instance, if the deceased person owned a business and died without a will, the half of the business could wind up in the hands of the person’s minor children, which quickly becomes a disaster. Another scenario that requires special consideration is a blended family with children from previous marriages. Having a will is the best way to ensure your property is distributed according to your wishes.
Requirements for making a valid will in Kentucky
Kentucky statute requires you sign your will in front of two witnesses. Your two witnesses must also sign your will. Having your will notarized is not a requirement in Kentucky. However, it is a good idea to have your will notarized because doing so makes your will “self-proving”. A will is considered self-proving if you and your two witnesses all sign an affidavit in front of the notary. The advantage of a self-proving will is the court can probate your will without contacting the witnesses who signed it.
The three most common estate planning documents are:
1. Last Will and Testament – a document which sets forth the manner in which you want your property to be divided upon your death, allows you to appoint a guardian and/or trustee for your minor children upon your death, and allows you to name an executor, or a person who will be responsible for handling your estate and making sure the terms of your will are carried out
2. Power of Attorney – a document that appoint a person to act as one’s agent to handle his or her property and financial affairs if the person becomes incapacitated. Having a power of attorney can help a person avoid the expense and delay of having to apply for a court-appointed guardian to handle the person’s property and financial affairs in the event of incapacity.
3. Living Will – a document which appoints an agent (called a health care surrogate), to make decisions regarding the person’s medical care if the person becomes incapacitated to make his or her own decisions, and allows the person to state his or her desire for life-prolonging treatment to be withdrawn or withheld in certain situations
Sometimes a child’s parents will try to prevent a grandparent from having contact with their grandchild. In Kentucky, the court may grant grandparent visitation if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child. The court will look at a number of factors, including the age of the grandchild and the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild. Cathi Harrison understands a child’s relationship with grandparents is invaluable and offers an additional perspective on life that parents alone cannot provide.
Child Custody & Support
What are the different types of child custody a court can award?
In Kentucky, the distinction is made between “physical” custody and “legal” custody. Physical custody refers to the parent who generally takes care of the child on a daily basis, including feeding and clothing the child. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for the child regarding medical and educational decisions.
There is also a distinction between sole and joint custody. If the parents have joint legal custody, both parents must act together in making important educational and medical decisions on behalf of their child. In a joint custody situation, one parent is often designated as the primary custodial parent, which means the child will spend more time at that parent’s house, but both parents still have equal decision-making rights. If one parent has sole custody, then that parent can make all medical and educational decisions without consulting the other parent.
Finally, custody in Kentucky can be sole or joint. This distinction most affects legal custody. In a joint legal custodial situation, both parents make decisions together on behalf of their child. When a child's parents have joint legal custody, they often agree to designate the parent with whom the child spends more time as the "primary residential parent" or "primary residential custodian." This is just a way of saying that the parents have equal decision-making rights, but the child spends more time at one residence than the other. This designation is not required by Kentucky law.
By contrast, in a sole legal custodial situation, only one parent has the right to make medical, educational, religious, cultural, and other important decisions for the child without having to first discuss the matter with the other parent.
Probate is the process of settling the estate of a deceased person (collecting assets, paying debts, and distributing the remaining assets according to the terms of the will, or according to law if there is no will. A petition must be filed, which asks the District Court judge to admit the will (if there is one) and appoint an executor to administer and settle the estate. If there is no will, then the petition asks for the appointment of an administrator to handle the deceased person’s financial affairs. Within 60 days of appointment, the executor or administrator must file an inventory of the deceased person’s assets. After paying all debts and distributing the remaining assets, the executor or administrator prepares and files a final settlement. The final settlement cannot be filed until after at least six (6) months after his or her appointment.
Dispensing with Administration
In certain circumstances, the judge may allow the transfer of estate assets without further court proceedings. Whether a person dies with or without a will, a Petition to Dispense with Administration may be filed by the following individuals in the following order or priority:
1. If the decedent’s personal estate is $15,000 or less, the surviving spouse may petition the court to transfer the property to him or her.
2. If the decedent’s personal estate is $15,000 or less and there is no surviving spouse, the surviving children may petition the court to transfer the property to them.
3. Certain claims (such as funeral expenses) are considered “preferred” claims, and any person,, including a surviving spouse or children, may provide proof of payment of a preferred claim and petition the District Court judge to transfer the decedent’s personal estate to them as a “preferred creditor” up to the amount of the paid claim.
Guardianship is a legal relationship in which the court appoints a guardian to care for the personal and/or financial needs of a person who has been found incompetent to make those decisions for himself. A guardianship has two prongs:
1. Guardianship allows the guardian to make personal care decisions; and
2. Conservatorship allows the conservator (usually the same person as the guardian) to make financial decisions for the person.
Examples of individuals who may require a guardian:
1. Someone age 18 or older who has mental retardation. Kentucky law presumes that once a child reaches the age of majority, the child is capable of handling his or her own personal and financial affairs. A parent of a child with a mental disability will no longer be allowed to make legal decisions for the child, including educational and medical decisions, without a guardianship.
2. An older individual with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease who can no longer make competent decisions regarding their living arrangements, consent to medical procedures, and handle their own finances; individuals who have been taken advantage of financially, or are at risk of being financially exploited