family law practice
At Schuette Law Group, we have an extensive family law practice. We represent individuals in every area of family law and bring a depth of experience that few law firms can rival. Below is a description of the specific areas of family law practice in which we serve clients.
No one enters into marriage with the expectation of divorce, but we live in a fallen world and life often becomes complicated. Without a doubt, one of the most difficult situations that people face in life is the ending of a marriage. By the time someone comes to see us, there has usually been a breakdown in communication between spouses. The first step we take in a potential or pending divorce matter is to help our client determine whether divorce is the best or only option. When we determine that it is, our goal is to maximize protection of our client’s interests while minimizing the harm that inevitably accompanies divorce.
Once we formulate a strategy with our client, we focus on providing skilled and vigorous advocacy to protect their interests. When it is not possible to reach an agreement on an issue, it is important that you be represented by skilled and experienced courtroom advocates. That is one of our greatest strengths.
Over our many years of practice, we have made a number of observations about divorce that inform our approach:
- Divorce—even when it is the best option—gives rise to a host of difficulties for the divorcing parties, their children and their families.
- Often, a divorce is like an exploding grenade, scattering shrapnel in every direction and injuring innocent parties.
- We strive to bring a calming influence to bear with the goal of helping our clients make short-term and long-term plans that put them in the best position to rebuild their lives.
- Divorces are expensive. Recognizing that our clients are often under a tremendous financial strain, we help our clients make wise choices about which battles to fight to maximize their resources.
- With proper preparation and careful planning, most issues in a divorce can be resolved through negotiation, which sometimes takes place in the context of mediation. This is another area in which we have a great depth of experience. Our ability and willingness to go to court and prevail on contested issues often drives peaceful resolution of matters.
We are sensitive to the many issues that clients must face when going through a divorce, which is why we work with other professionals in the community such as counselors, ministers, and accountants to offer our clients support and assistance. Often, this can make the difference between mere survival and successfully overcoming the challenges that follow divorce.
Custody / Time-Sharing / Visitation
Custody, time-sharing, and visitation matters are among the most challenging and difficult legal issues that clients face. If there is one area in which the skill and experience level of an attorney is critical, this is it. These issues arise in divorce actions after marriages have been dissolved and in circumstances where the parents or caregivers have never been married. It is in this area where the interests of parents, children, siblings, and family members are most deeply impacted.
Most everyone is familiar with the concept of “the best interest of the child.” What that means in a given context can often be the subject of strong disagreement and, sometimes, bitter dispute. We have been involved in many engagements involving custody, time-sharing or visitation and frequently work with counselors and others to assist the court in determining how to allocate time with a child between his or her parents and family members.
We believe strongly in the “best interest of the child” concept, but this is only one aspect of a multi-faceted issue. We also incorporate strategies designed to protect the rights of parents under the state and federal constitutions.
As we work through custody-related matters, we recognize that even the best outcome falls short of the ideal, which is for children to be reared in loving, two-parent homes. The impact of our work in this area creates ripples that roll across generations and we treat these engagements as the solemn undertakings that they are—cases that require wise counsel and strong advocacy.
Division of Property / Allocation of Debt
In most cases, division of property is eventually resolved by agreement. Careful treatment of the classification of assets is key. Knowing how to determine which assets are subject to division by the court (referred to as “marital assets”) and which are not (referred to as “non-marital assets”) is an important step in protecting the rights of our clients. In many cases, an asset may be partly marital and partly non-marital. Under Kentucky law, marital assets are subject to “equitable” division between the parties, i.e. a division of assets that is “fair,” even if it is not “equal.” While this may be an equal division, that is not always the case.
In deciding how to distribute marital assets, courts consider factors such as:
- The contributions of the parties to acquisition of the asset, including the contribution of a homemaker-spouse;
- The value of non-marital assets assigned to each party;
- The post-divorce earning potential of each party;
- The impact of awarding an asset such as the marital home to the spouse who will spend the most time with the children;
- The relative liquidity of the assets awarded to each party;
- The length of the marriage, especially where one of the assets is a family business that existed prior to the marriage;
- The valuation of assets, which can often be a complex question where competing experts offer widely differing opinions.
Of equal importance to division of assets is the allocation of debt. This is an area where the earning capacity of each spouse can have a major impact. Another factor that courts will consider is who will benefit from the use of the asset after the divorce, i.e. whether the debt should follow the asset. This determination sometimes becomes even more complex when one of the parties files bankruptcy. Because our firm also handles bankruptcy matters, we are in a position to provide guidance in these situations.
We sometimes find it necessary to address the issue of dissipation of assets, which occurs when a spouse acts deliberately to deprive the other of the use or benefit of an asset. The legal burden of proving dissipation is heavy, but this issue plays an important role in achieving a genuinely equitable result.
This is an area of law practice that we refer to as “happy law.” Adoption is a great blessing for couples who desire to raise children whose parents are unable to care for them. It also benefits children by placing them homes in which they are both loved and wanted.
Adoptions are subject to a variety of strict procedural and substantive requirements. Careful handling prevents negative outcomes for parents and children. We have participated extensively in every aspect of the adoption process, representing the interests of adoptive parents, adoptees, and biological parents. We have also done many intra-family adoptions, including step-parent and grandparent adoptions.
Providing legal services in connection with adoptions is a profound privilege.
Domestic Violence/Interpersonal Protective Orders
Domestic violence is by many accounts an epidemic. Unfortunately, this important protection is sometimes misused by those seeking to gain an unfair advantage in a family law matter. Our level of experience in family court helps us to discern the difference between situations that merit entry of a Domestic Violence Order and those that do not. We know how disruptive and harmful improper entry of an order can be and do everything in our power to avoid that.
Once an order has been entered, we work with clients to assure compliance with the order, both for the one who is subject to the order and the one who is protected by it. Non-compliance is a serious issue in which skilled representation is vital.
Kentucky law has now been expanded to include a new remedy known as an “Interpersonal Protective Order.” This allows one who is not a member of a couple (whether married or cohabitating) or a family to obtain the court-ordered protection in response to stalking, dating-related violence or sexual assault.
The Cabinet for Health & Family Services provides excellent resources regarding domestic violence on its website.
Imagine what is would feel like for social workers and police officers come to your home, take your children and place them with strangers due to allegations of neglect and abuse. This scene occurs every day in Kentucky when a Petition alleging neglect and abuse is filed resulting in an emergency order for removal of children being entered by the court.
Within 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) a temporary removal hearing must be held and the Court must determine “whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child would be dependent, neglected or abused if returned to or left in the custody of his parent…even though it is not proved conclusively who has perpetrated… the abuse”. This initial hearing, where the rule against hearsay is regularly suspended, often sets the tone for the remainder of the action. Children either remain in or are returned the home of removal, are placed in a foster home or placed with a relative.
Some types of allegations that result in removal include: parents/caretakers being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, domestic violence in the home, child discipline resulting in injury or marks, failing to provide necessary medication or medical treatment, living in a inhabitable home, sexual abuse by a parent, paramour or someone else, family living in a home with someone on the sex offender registry or failing to ensure a child’s proper attendance at school. All of these type allegations and many others have resulted in the removal of children from their parents.
Abraham Lincoln once said that “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”. Unfortunately, people often decide to represent themselves at the initial temporary removal hearing and because of inexperience and emotion, cause damage to their case that could have been avoided if they had retained an attorney experienced in the juvenile court system.
If a child is placed in the temporary custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services an adjudication hearing and a disposition hearing in which the court determines whether the child remains in the custody of the Cabinet, is returned or placed with a relative must be held within 45 days of removal. The court can extend the 45 days after making written findings that the extension is in the child’s best interest.
A parent whose child is removed should immediately obtain and begin working a case plan from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services even if the parent is confident that he or she will prevail at the adjudication. Attorneys experienced in juvenile proceedings can often anticipate and recommend helpful services and other actions that result in an expedited return of children. Case plans often include parenting classes, random drug screens, obtaining and maintaining stable housing and employment and participating in other services designed to rehabilitate the parent so the child may be returned.
If a child remains in the temporary custody of a relative and the relative meets the requirements of a de facto custodian, the relative may move the court for permanent custody. When a child is actually residing with a grandparent in a stable relationship, the court may consider a permanent custody motion even before a grandparent meets the requirements of a de facto custodian.
If a child remains in the custody of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services for 15 months, and certain other requirements are met, the Cabinet may file a separate petition for termination of parental rights. This is the equivalent of a death penalty case in family court. If a parent loses, a termination of parent rights order results in the child having no legal parents and the parents having no rights whatsoever regarding the child. If the parent does not file and prevail on a timely appeal, children are either adopted or remain in foster care until age 18. A child who is in foster care when he or she turns 18 should seriously consider extending his or her commitment to the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Extending one’s commitment offers many benefits for foster children who remain in foster care after age 18, including tuition waiver at any Kentucky university, technical or community college and other assistance towards independent living.
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