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Swan v. Gatewood

Case No. 2022-CA-0202-MR

Fayette Family Court

Decided by Combs, Easton, and Eckerle Judges.

Opinion by Eckerle, Judge

Date Rendered: June 9, 2023

Issue: Whether Mother’s Final Decision-Making Authority Regarding Educational and Medical Decisions is Subject to Judicial Review for Reasonableness.

Mother and Father disagreed about where to send minor Child to kindergarten. Mother raised child to be bilingual, speaking both English and French. Thus, Mother wished to send child to a school with a French immersion program in Louisville. Father wished Child to attend school in Fayette County, where both parties resided, arguing that the Louisville school would affect his parenting time and ability to be involved with the child’s school.

While this dispute was ongoing, the parties entered into a settlement agreement which provided that the parties would share joint custody of the minor child, but that mother would have final decision-making authority over educational and medical decisions if the parties could not reach an agreement “after consultation.” The parties also agreed to an equal 2-2-3 time-sharing arrangement.

Over Father’s objections, Mother enrolled child in the Louisville school, and child began attending. Father filed an emergency motion to enforce the parties’ settlement agreement, arguing Mother’s choice of the Louisville school was unreasonable and amounted to a de facto relocation in violation of his joint custody and equal timesharing rights.

At the hearing, the principal of the Louisville school testified that it no longer had a French Immersion program and was unlikely to restart it. Father testified that the Louisville school’s test scores were in the bottom 20% of schools statewide. The Family Court granted Father’s motion to enforce the agreement, recognizing that the Agreement gave Mother final decision-making authority on educational issues, but that it did not authorize Mother to make unreasonable decisions or risk changing the parties’ relationship with the child. Mother appealed.

On appeal, Mother argued that because the Agreement gave her final decision-making authority on educational decisions, those decisions were not subject to judicial review absent a motion to modify the custody agreement under KRS 403.330 or 403.340.

The Court of Appeals held that although the Agreement clearly gave Mother the final say on educational decisions, that discretion was not unlimited. The Court further held that Mother could not exercise her final decision-making authority in a manner that effected Father’s rights under the Agreement, finding that Mother’s decision to send Child to the Louisville school materially effected the quality of Father’s timesharing. The Court agreed with the Family Court that Mother’s decision effectively amounted to a relocation, without prior approval of the Court as required by the Agreement.

Digested by Emily T. Cecconi