In Depth: Uniform Family Court Rules In Place

Kentucky now has a uniform set of rules governing all family law cases in the Commonwealth.

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In November 2002, voters approved a state constitutional amendment creating family courts in Kentucky. Since then, family courts have been established in 71 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, serving more than three million citizens. Family legal matters in the other 49 counties are still handled by circuit and district courts. But Chief Justice John Minton (in photo with Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble) says there were no uniform rules of procedure governing family law in the state, until now.

“We’ve done our best to try to live up to the uniform nature of our court system, and the unified nature of our court system, by developing a uniform set of rules to be applied in the Court of Justice across the Commonwealth,” said Minton.

The new rules, unveiled at the State Capitol, went into effect on January 1st. Chief Justice Minton says the measures, developed by a civil rules committee, are almost two years in the making.

“One of the committee’s priorities was to draw upon the best practices across the state,” said Minton. “So, more than 100 family law practitioners, judges, lawyers, domestic relations commissioners and others were consulted, were a working part of the group that put these rules together.”

The panel was chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Mary Noble of Lexington.

“There is no value that we have that is greater than the value of the worth of our families, and raising our children appropriately, and raising them within the rule of and bounds of law,” said Noble. “And so it is very appropriate for the Supreme Court to focus on family court and to do whatever we can to make it work better.”

Justice Noble says the Family Court Rules of Procedure and Practice that emerged from the deliberations apply to all family law cases, including divorce, termination of parental rights, domestic violence, child support, juvenile offenses, adoption and neglect or abuse.

“Kentucky is a unified court system,” said Noble. “And we needed some rules where you could go to any family court in the state and know that that’s a rule – which makes of ease for the practitioners, the lawyers. It makes of ease for the families, the litigants that are going through this, to understand what the court process is. And that’s very important, too.”

Will Williams, a family court judge in Franklin County, agrees. He says the rules definitely will make it easier to handle cases coming in from other jurisdictions.

“I mean when I get a case in from another county, it’s nice to know that that county practices in the same way that I do,” said Williams. “And really, that hadn’t been the case – particularly for some of the counties down in the rural parts of the state, and some of the counties that don’t have family courts.”

In those counties, the new rules apply to family law cases handled by circuit and district courts. Ultimately, Chief Justice Minton would like to see family courts in every county, but due to budget constraints, he says that’s just not possible right now. Washington County Circuit Judge Dan Kelly, who spent 20 years in the legislature, agrees. But like Minton, Kelly believes family courts eventually will become a reality in the more sparsely populated counties.

“Those are your much smaller counties where it takes three or four, maybe even five counties, to make up a judicial district,” said Kelly. “The family court won’t work as well in those areas until there is more population, and then when there is, I’m sure we’ll have one.”

Chief Justice Minton says the Supreme Court, which oversees all courts in the commonwealth, is keeping its finger on the pulse of family courts. Minton says the courts have more than proven their worth, and he trusts the General Assembly will provide funding for additional family courts “as soon as fiscally possible.”

By Tony McVeigh

Veteran broadcast journalist Tony McVeigh has been covering Kentucky politics since 1986, reporting for Clear Channel Communications before joining Kentucky Public Radio in 2004. His stories are aired by seven KPR affiliates, whose signals blanket the Commonwealth and parts of surrounding states. McVeigh began his broadcasting career at WRFC in Athens, Georgia, while earning a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia. He has extensive anchor/reporter experience, including stints with South Carolina Network and Georgia Radio News Service in Atlanta. In 2007 and 2008, McVeigh was named Best Radio Reporter in the Kentucky Associated Press Awards. He also picked up consecutive AP Awards for Best Political Coverage. McVeigh won four Kentucky AP Awards in 2009, six in 2010 - including Best Political Coverage and Best Hard News Feature - and three in 2011. His coverage of the 2007 Kentucky governor's race topped the Political Reporting category of the Society of Professional Journalists Green Eyeshade Awards of 2008. In 2009, McVeigh placed second in Courts and Law Reporting in the Atlanta-based competition for journalists in 11 Southern states. McVeigh is also the proud recipient of an Individual Liberty Award from the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Brunswick, Georgia, native is a die-hard UGA football fan who enjoys photography, astronomy, live music, hiking Kentucky's Red River Gorge and exploring the state's beautiful back roads. McVeigh and his big, fat, black cat Simon, reside in Frankfort, KY.