Thursday, August 02, 2001
Author of custody law makes use of it
By Mark R. Chellgren
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT Like many estranged parents, Kim Stacy has been battling over custody of her three children in the two years since her divorce. She now has a new threat, from a change in the custody laws prompted by her ex-husband, state Rep. John Will Stacy.
Mr. Stacy, a Democratic legislator since 1992 and chairman of an influential appropriations subcommittee, arranged for the change in the law during a late-night conference committee meeting near the end of the General Assembly session in March.
The bill makes it easier for a divorced parent without custody to challenge the custody orders of a court. There was no public discussion or debate of the provision, which was added to an unrelated bill.
Jo Ann Wise, who was chairwoman of the Kentucky Bar Association's family law committee who lobbied the legislature, said there was no need for a change in the law.
Judges and lawyers alike, the people who do this for a living, were opposed, Mr. Wise said. It just came out of the blue.
The change was sponsored by Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who acknowledged he did so on Mr. Stacy's behalf.
Less than two months after the new law took effect, Mr. Stacy cited it in his request to a judge for primary custody of his children. Under the divorce decree, the couple share custody, but the children live with Kim Stacy.
Mrs. Stacy hired Ms. Wise to represent her after the custody challenge was filed. The case was scheduled to be heard in Morgan County Circuit Court Tuesday but was delayed by the domestic relations commissioner.
Before, a noncustodial parent had to swear through affidavits that a child's physical, mental, moral or emotional health was seriously endangered in the current home. The new law eases that burden with language that allows custody challenges based on the best interests of the child.
Mr. Stacy said he's proud of the new law.
This legislation didn't do anything special for me that it didn't do for any other parent or spouse in my situation, Mr. Stacy told the Lexington Herald-Leader. If it benefits my children, great. It probably benefited a lot of children, a lot of families.
David Richart, director of the National Institute on Children at Spalding University in Louisville, a nonprofit organization that examines the role of children in politics, said the change will open the door to more custody challenges, which will hurt the children involved.
Mr. Richart, who used to lobby the Kentucky legislature on children's issues, said the change also appeared self-serving. He manipulated the process to pursue his own personal interest, Mr. Richart said. it just feels as if he was exploiting his legislative authority.
Among the three reasons Mr. Stacy cited in his motion for custody was that the grades of the children have declined.
Ms. Wise said the decline has been modest. What he's citing is normal things that happen to people after a divorce, Ms. Wise said. We didn't need to lower the bar, except for disgruntled former spouses who happen to be legislators.
Rep. Gross Clay Lindsay, D-Henderson, who has served in the Kentucky House in four different decades and is now chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the change in the law and Mr. Stacy's taking advantage of it raise questions without easy answers.
Mr. Lindsay said the legislation clearly makes it easier to raise custody issues than the previous law. Now, is that bad or is that good? I suspect you'll find people on both sides of that issue.
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