AND CROSS-APPEAL FROM KNOX FAMILY COURT HONORABLE STEPHEN
JONES, JUDGE ACTION NO. 15-CI-00106
FROM KNOX FAMILY COURT HONORABLE STEPHEN JONES, JUDGE ACTION
FOR APPELLANT/CROSSAPPELLEE, MICHAEL THOMAS GOODLETT: Rhonda
Duerr Girdner Barbourville, Kentucky
FOR APPELLEES/CROSSAPPELLANTS, BILL AND MARSHA BRITTAIN:
David M. Mills Barbourville, Kentucky
BEFORE: JONES, J. LAMBERT, AND MAZE, JUDGES.
Goodlett appeals from an April 20, 2016, order of the Knox
Family Court granting grandparent visitation to Bill and
Marsha Brittain (collectively, "the Brittains").
The Brittains also appeal from that order, alleging that the
visitation awarded was inadequate. Thereafter, Goodlett filed
a notice of appeal from a February 22, 2017, order directing
all parties to comply with the original visitation order. As
an initial matter, we conclude that the trial court had
subject matter jurisdiction even though the Brittains
withdrew their petition prior to its service on Goodlett.
However, we agree with Goodlett that the trial court's
factual findings were insufficient to justify an award of
grandparent visitation. Hence, we reverse and remand for
entry of additional findings. Consequently, the issues raised
in the Brittains' cross-appeal and Goodlett's
subsequent appeal are now moot. Hence, we dismiss those
and Procedural History
is the father of two children, ZDG (born November 2009), and
ZMG (born March 2011). The children's mother, Alesha,
separated from Goodlett in 2014. She and the children resided
with her parents, Bill and Marsha Brittain, beginning in
March 2014. During this time, the Brittains helped Alesha
care for the children while she underwent treatment for
cancer. Goodlett had regular visitation with the children
during this period.
December 2014, Alesha filed a petition for dissolution of the
marriage in the Bell Circuit Court. She also filed a motion
for temporary custody of the children, which the circuit
court granted. However, Alesha died on February 2, 2015, and
shortly thereafter, Goodlett took custody of the children.
The Brittains attempted to intervene in the dissolution
action, and also brought a motion to establish grandparent
visitation. But on March 17, 2015, the Bell Circuit Court
denied the motions and dismissed the case, concluding that
the dissolution action was subject to automatic abatement
upon Alesha's death.
March 25, 2015, the Brittains filed the current action in the
Knox Family Court, seeking grandparent visitation pursuant to
405.021. Goodlett and the Brittains initially attempted to
come to an agreement regarding visitation, but were unable to
do so. In September 2015, the trial court entered an agreed
order for temporary grandparent visitation. On Goodlett's
motion, the trial court scheduled an evidentiary hearing on
the petition for grandparent visitation, which the trial
court held on March 16, 2016.
conclusion of that hearing, the trial court granted
visitation to the Brittains. The trial court gave the
Brittains visitation with the children on alternate Saturday
afternoons, with overnight visitation once a month beginning
after a 120-day period. The court's oral findings were
memorialized by a written order entered on April 20, 2016.
and the Brittains each filed a motion to alter, amend or
vacate the order. Goodlett argued that the written order
failed to reflect the trial court's oral ruling, and the
Brittains argued that their visitation was inadequate. The
trial court denied both motions on April 27, 2016. This
appeal and cross-appeal followed. Subsequently, Goodlett
filed an appeal from February 22, 2017, order re-setting the
Brittains' visitation to the original terms. These
appeals are now submitted to this Court to be heard together.
Additional facts relevant to these appeals will be set out
12, 2017, this Court directed the parties to file
supplemental briefs to address whether the trial court
properly exercised subject-matter jurisdiction in this case.
As we noted in that order, the Brittains filed a motion to
withdraw their petition on April 10, 2015, before the
petition was served on Goodlett. On April 27, the trial court
granted their motion to withdraw the petition and dismissed
the case. However, on June 26, 2015, the Brittains filed a
motion under the same case number, seeking to re-open and
re-docket their prior petition. The trial court granted the
motion to re-open during a motion hearing on July 10, 2015.
Goodlett filed his response to the petition and the matter
then proceeded to the visitation order at issue in these
prior order, we questioned whether the trial court properly
exercised jurisdiction over the re-opened petition. While
neither of the parties raise this issue, it is
well-established that a judgment entered by a court without
subject-matter jurisdiction is void. Hisle v.
Lexington-Fayette Urban Cty. Gov't, 258 S.W.3d 422,
430 (Ky. App. 2008). Therefore, the issue may be raised at
any time, including on the Court's own motion.