Bonita K. Baker, Attorney at Law
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Contact Bonnie: 502-581-9393

Practice Areas:

If you need workable solutions to a divorce or other family issue, Bonnie can help you find answers to a full range of family law matters, such as:

Divorce

Kentucky is a no-fault divorce state. This means that the judge doesn’t want to hear “he said, she said” arguments about which party is to blame for the disintegration of the marriage. The only grounds for divorce—and the only reason the judge wants to hear—is the simple proclamation that “the marriage is irretrievably broken.”

Although the divorce itself is an emotionally upsetting experience, the actual legal proceeding is best viewed as a financial settlement. Bonnie will explain how your taxes, cash flow, credit rating, health care benefits, retirement plans, and other financial issues will be affected. She will take steps to protect your rights and strive to develop an optimal divorce settlement. However, if negotiations fail and your case goes to trial, Bonnie is an assertive and effective litigator in the courtroom who will fight for your best interests.

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Legal Separation

Legal separation is a divorce alternative which may be appropriate for clients who have moral or religious objections to a legal divorce or who have health issues and need to stay on their spouse’s health insurance.

Contrary to popular belief, a couple is not legally separated the moment one of the parties packs a suitcase and moves out of the marital residence. Rather, a legal separation entails obtaining a formal decree of legal separation, which is very similar to a divorce decree. In both a divorce and a legal separation, all property, debts and other financial and custody issues must be settled between the parties either through a formal, written settlement agreement or a trial decision.

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Child Custody

“I want full custody!” is a frequently heard request at Bonnie’s law office. “In Kentucky, there actually is no such legal term as ‘full custody,’” Bonnie explains. Rather, in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, there are only two legally recognized types of custody: sole and joint. The term custody itself is generally described as the care, control and maintenance of the children, according to a legal dictionary, Black’s Law Dictionary, 725 (8th ed. 2004). Generally speaking, custody is about who will make the major decisions about the child’s well-being. “Major” means significant decisions, such as where the child will go to school, what religion the child will practice, and, in the event of a serious illness or injury, what type of medical treatment the child will receive. The parent who has sole custody can make those decisions without the agreement of the other parent. However, most parents have joint custody, which means that both mother and father must agree on critical decisions for their child.

Parenting time, which means how much time a mother or father will spend with the child, is an issue faced by parents in both sole and joint custody cases. Although the best interest of the child is the criteria commonly used to develop an appropriate schedule, a regular day-to-day parenting schedule also makes life easier for parents. Most parents will agree that it is in everyone’s best interests to know where Little Emily will be on any given day and which parent is responsible for leaving work when Little Jacob’s school calls on a Tuesday to say that he is sick. In addition to the question of the child’s regular day-to-day parenting schedule, parents who no longer will be living together should have a holiday as well as a vacation schedule. Bonnie will help you develop a proposed parenting schedule which will accommodate the unique needs of your own family.

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Child Support

There is an old legal saying: “To the parent receiving child support, the amount is never enough. To the parent paying child support, the amount is always too much." Whether you are the child support recipient or payor, Bonnie can assist you in an analysis of the pros and cons of legal arguments that could affect the final child support obligation in your case.

Child support is set by Kentucky statute and is calculated according to a formula set forth in what is known as the Kentucky Child Support Guidelines. In general terms, the statutory child support obligation is calculated using each parent’s gross monthly income, the cost of the child’s portion of the health insurance, and the amount spent each month on day care. That said, various legal arguments, if successful, can lead to either a higher or lower child support number. For example, is the custodial parent the full-time caregiver of a child of the parties who is under the age of four? Does a father’s recent lay-off mean that he has experienced a substantial and continuing change of circumstances which would allow a reduction in his child support payments? Does the fact that a parent covers not only your child, but three stepchildren, on the health insurance make a difference? Is the child support obligor currently paying child support for older children? Bonnie will ask you the appropriate questions as she examines a child support issue from all angles.

Sound legal advice is equally critical to higher income families because the Kentucky Child Support Guidelines stop at a gross income for both parties of $15,000.00 per month. If both parents’ combined monthly income exceeds $15,000.00, the judge has the discretion to determine what amount of support should be paid. Bonnie can help to develop compelling arguments for an appropriate level of child support, whether you are the child support recipient or the payor.

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Maintenance

Shrewd negotiating is of critical importance in the area of maintenance (i.e., spousal support) because Kentucky state law does not provide an exact formula for calculating a monthly payment. Rather, arriving at an appropriate sum for maintenance involves consideration of several factors, including the recipient’s own earning power and financial need as well as the payor’s ability to pay while meeting his/her own expenses.

A maintenance award concerns not only how much money, but also the duration of the payments. As a starting point, many practitioners perform quick mental math: for every three years married, one year maintenance. However, again because there is no exact formula, maintenance can be appropriate even if a couple has been married for a brief period of time. As to duration, maintenance also can last many, many years in the case of a married-for-decades housewife. Kentucky case law provides guidance in formulating arguments both for and against the payment of maintenance. Bonnie can apply this case law to the unique facts of your marriage and help you to analyze how to proceed with this difficult issue. Whether you are the spouse seeking maintenance or the one from whom an award of maintenance is being sought, Bonnie’s goal is to achieve the most optimal outcome for you.

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Collaborative Law

Bonnie has years of experience practicing collaborative law. Collaborative family law is a newer type of practice which aims to settle divorce and other family problems in a cooperative manner without using the court system for motions, hearings and trial litigation. If you choose collaborative law as your method of resolving your case, Bonnie and you will participate in four-party conferences with your spouse and his/her own collaborative lawyer as all work toward settling problems as a team. For more information on collaborative law, please see http://www.kycollaborative.com/ and http://www.collaborativepractice.com/

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Qualified Domestic Relations Orders

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO, is a legal document which requires an employer to divide an employee’s retirement benefits. In many households, the couple’s retirement benefits are their most valuable asset. Even if the couple’s golden years are decades away, their retirement benefits must be divided during the divorce proceeding, either through a marital settlement or a trial decision from the judge. Every year, Bonnie receives at least one call from an elderly woman who asks, “I divorced twenty years ago, and my Marital Settlement Agreement does not give me any share in my ex-husband’s pension. He just retired, and now he receives a big check in the mail every month, for life, from his company. Can I get my share now?” The answer, in a word, is “no.” Your share must have been awarded to you in your divorce.

If you are awarded a share of your spouse’s retirement benefits in your divorce, proper practice is to immediately submit a QDRO to the judge. This QDRO sets forth exactly the terms of your award, but must not be written in such a way as to violate the rules of the ex-spouse’s retirement plan. If this sounds complicated, that is because it is! Retirement plans are protected by federal law, which means that cumbersome, complex requirements must be met when drafting QDROs.

Bonnie is a former pension contract writer who revised defined benefit plans to conform to the requirements of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which was enacted to protect the interests of employees who were participants in employer-sponsored plans. Therefore, Bonnie understands first-hand the importance of a carefully crafted document. She prepares QDROs for both clients and other attorneys. These QDROs deal with both defined contribution (401k) plans and defined benefit plans. Bonnie particularly enjoys drafting defined benefit QDROs. “In many cases, an interest in a defined benefit plan is the most expensive asset that a person will ever own,” Bonnie says. “I explain to my clients that a defined benefit pension plan means receiving a check in the mail every month when you are old. At X dollars per month times twelve months in a year times thirty years, the amount of money involved can be staggering.”

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Prenuptial Agreements

Properly drafted antenuptial agreements, commonly called “prenuptial agreements,” or simply “prenups,” protect the rights and interests of soon-to-wed couples. These agreements are a contract between a man and a woman, made in contemplation of marriage, which set forth an agreed upon division of property in the event of divorce and/or death.

There are three limitations to the court’s enforcement of prenuptial agreements, as set forth in the Kentucky Supreme Court case of Gentry v. Gentry, 798 S.W.2d 928 (Ky. 1990). In that case, the Kentucky Supreme Court stated:

“[T]he trial judge should employ basically three criteria in determining whether to enforce…[a prenuptial] agreement in a particular case:
(1) Was the agreement obtained through fraud, duress or mistake, or through misrepresentation or non-disclosure of material facts?
(2) Is the agreement unconscionable?
(3) Have the fact and circumstances changed since the agreement was executed so as to make its enforcement unfair and unreasonable?” Id.        at 936.

As to considering whether the terms of a prenuptial agreement are fair, in a more recent case, Blue v. Blue, 60 S.W.3d 585 (Ky. App. 2001), the Court of Appeals of Kentucky stated that an “appropriate test of the substantive fairness of a prenuptial agreement requires a finding that the circumstances of the parties at the time the marriage is dissolved are not so beyond the contemplation of the parties at the time the contract was entered into as to cause its enforcement to work an injustice” Id. at 590. Bonnie can assist you in drafting a document that seeks to satisfy both your needs and the needs of your fiancé, while also meeting criteria set forth in Kentucky case law. A well-drafted prenuptial agreement can help you:

  • Protect your assets
  • Define marital and non-marital property
  • Avoid expensive litigation in the event of divorce
  • Protect the financial interests of children from a previous marriage
  • Define criteria for future maintenance payments (including either setting forth a specific sum or eliminating maintenance in its entirety)

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Mediation Services

Mediation is an informal process by which an impartial, neutral mediator works with both parties toward the voluntary settlement of all legal and practical issues raised in a divorce or custody case. In Jefferson County, both parties are required to attend a mediation session prior to obtaining a date for a divorce or custody trial. In addition to working as an attorney, Bonnie also is a mediator approved by the Jefferson Circuit Court Family Division to handle mediations involving issues including custody/visitation, non-marital property, marital property, and/or maintenance. In addition, she is listed as a family mediator on the Kentucky Administrative Office of the Court’s Roster of Mediators.

Bonnie is dedicated to the peaceful and amicable resolution of all family law issues through the process of mediation. As your neutral mediator, Bonnie will assist you, your spouse and your attorneys in identifying all issues relevant to your divorce or custody case and working toward solutions that will satisfy the needs of both parties. The goal of family law mediation is to develop a written settlement agreement which both parties agree should be entered as an order of the court. It is important to note that, unlike a judge, the mediator has no power to order any action; rather, mediation is a voluntary process in which both parties must agree on a solution. Because the agreement developed in mediation is voluntary, parties are encouraged to think outside-the-box and to develop solutions that are not available through the court. As your mediator, Bonnie can offer creative suggestions to resolve your case.

Successful divorce mediation is an empowering experience which encourages communication between spouses. The process usually takes place with both parties and their attorneys working in the same room with the mediator. However, in high conflict situations, the session can be conducted with each party and his or her own attorney in a separate room, with the mediator going back and forth during negotiations.

Bonnie welcomes your questions about the mediation process.

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