Kentucky Child Custody And Visitation Guidelines
Kentucky defines custody in many different ways. Custody can be “physical” or “legal.” Physical custody simply refers to the parent who has physical care and control of the child on a day-to-day basis, which includes daily, hands-on care, such as bathing or feeding a child. Legal custody, on the other hand, is the right to make important decisions on behalf of a child regarding matters like education, culture, religion and health.
Custody can be temporary or permanent. Temporary custody is usually awarded to one parent during paternity or divorce proceedings, with the understanding that eventually there will be a contested hearing in front of a judge.
Custody in Kentucky can also be sole or joint. When parents are awarded joint legal custody, both parents make decisions together on behalf of their child. When a child’s parents have joint legal custody, they often agree to designate the parent with whom the child spends more time as the “primary residential parent.” This designation is not required by Kentucky law.
When a parent is the sole legal custodial, only that parent has the right to make medical, educational, religious, cultural, and other important decisions for the child. The other parent does not have to be consulted for these decisions.
In a joint physical custodial situation, the child lives with both parents, but may spend a little more time with one than the other.
Kentucky’s Official Custody Guidelines
Absent serious endangerment, it is in the best interest of all children to have a healthy relationship with both parents. Kentucky Court prefers that parents communicate with each other concerning their children’s best interests. If the parties cannot agree, Kentucky has specific guidelines visitation and time sharing. Kentucky courts encourage all parents to consider all options in order to arrive at the best interests for their children, in order to minimize the trauma that divorce has upon children. The guidelines are available through any local Kentucky office.
Court Determination of Custody
Kentucky courts have established a “best interests” standard to decide what the custodial arrangement should be. If the matter goes to a contested hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to call witnesses, present other evidence and testify. The court may decide to call the child as a witness, and may ask the child where he or she would prefer to live. After the hearing, the judge must issue a written order for permanent custody that takes into account all of the following factors:
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to his or her custody
- The wishes of the child as to his or her custodian
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and
- Information, records, and evidence of domestic abuse.
The judge is also required to consider any other relevant factors, such as abuse or neglect, in making a final ruling.
In Kentucky, if a parent is not granted custody of a child, the noncustodial parent is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless the court finds that visitation will reasonably endanger the child’s physical, emotional, mental or moral health. The court will issue a schedule determining the timing and frequency of the noncustodial parent’s visitation with the child. All parents have a constitutional right to care for and control their children. Some parties decide to come up with their own arrangements, which they present to the court as a “parenting plan.”
Visitation can’t be taken away from a parent except by a court after a hearing. Visitation can be modified or denied if it serves the best interests of a child, but it can’t be totally restricted unless the judge finds that it would seriously hurt the child to spend time with the parent.
De Facto Custodians
Nonparents may become the de facto custodians of a child if the child is under the age of three and has lived with them for six months, or lived with them for a year if the child is over the age of three. They must have actual possession of the child and must stand in the place of a parent. If they can establish this, de facto custodians enjoy the same standing in custody matters as a biological parent.
Establishing paternity is the way to legally determine the father of a child who is born to an unmarried woman. Signing the father’s name on a birth certificate is not enough to legally determine paternity. (However, if the mother is married when the child is born, her husband is legally considered the father of the child and paternity does not need to be legally determined).
There are two ways to establish paternity:
– The mother and father can sign a paternity affidavit; AND
– A paternity case can be filed in court.
The mother; the man who thinks he is the father of a child; the mother and father together; or the person or agency supporting the child -– can all file for paternity. The county attorney or Cabinet for Health and Family Services must file a paternity action if any of the people listed above request it. The county attorney’s office will also usually ask for a child support order, but will usually not help with custody or visitation problems.
Modification of Custody
A court in Kentucky will not reconsider a child custody order that was determined less than two years from the current custody order unless a parent can prove:
- The child’s present environment may seriously endanger his physical, mental, moral or emotional well-being
- The custodian appointed under the prior court agreement has placed the child with a de facto custodian
Prior to modifying a custody order, the court will consider whether the parents agree to the modification and how well the child is integrated into the family.
Relocation Out of State
In Kentucky, a parent must not move to another state without first making a joint agreement about any changes in visitation needed after the move. If you and the other parent can agree about visitation after the move:
- Put your agreement in writing, and
- File a copy of your agreement with the court.
If you cannot agree, ask for a court hearing to have a judge decide. The judge may decide to give the other parent residential custody because of the move.
If the court believes it is not in the child’s best interest to move, it may give residential custody to the other parent. If custody changes, child support will change, too. The court will consider many factors, including:
- How far away you plan to move,
- How hard it will be for the other parent to see your child and maintain their relationship,
- How much you have supported the other parent’s contact with the child in the past,
- The reasons for your move,
- The reasons the other parent doesn’t want you to move, and
- Other factors that affect what is best for the child.
- Military Custody
When a parent is deployed, the court may modify an order granting or denying visitation rights whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child; but the court will not restrict a parent’s visitation rights unless it finds that the visitation would endanger seriously the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. Any court-ordered modification of a child visitation decree, based in whole or in part on:
– The active duty of a parent or a de facto custodian as a regular member of the United States Armed Forces deployed outside the United States; or
– Any federal active duty of a parent or a de facto custodian as a member of a state National Guard or a Reserve component.
Modification of custody shall be temporary and shall revert back to the previous child visitation decree at the end of the deployment outside the United States or the federal active duty, as appropriate. Any parent or de facto custodian may consent to a modification of a child visitation decree that continues past the end of the deployment outside the United States or the federal active duty, as appropriate.
Kentucky Cabinet of Family Resources: 1-800-372-2973
Note: The foregoing information is provided as general family law guidelines in the state of Kentucky and should not be considered as legal advice specific to your case. After reviewing the above material, you will be presented with the opportunity to submit more details specific to your case directly to About The Children.
Submitted by Linda O’Marie, Paralegal
Call (800) 787-4981