How Does Kentucky Determine Child Custody?

As of new guidelines passed in 2018, Kentucky is the only U.S. state that defaults to joint child custody in cases involving divorce or unmarried parents. This new law mandates equal parenting time and legal custody unless one or both parents have a history of abuse. 

When parents cannot agree on a fair custody arrangement, the judge will make a legally binding determination. 

Defining Legal and Physical Custody 

Parents may have 50/50 physical custody or decide on a primary physical custodian with significant parenting time for the noncustodial parent. Regardless of the physical custody schedule, both parents will have partial legal custody. This means that each can weigh in on critical decisions about the child’s health care, religious instruction and education. 

Reaching an Agreement  

Under Kentucky law, parents should use 50/50 physical custody as the basis of negotiations. However, they can adjust the exact amount of time spent with each parent depending on their wishes, the child’s wishes, the distance between the homes, work schedules and/or where the child attends school. Parents may consider mediation or other alternative dispute resolution methods when they disagree on custody. Rarely, the court will decide on custody when parents cannot reach an agreement. 

Understanding the Child’s Most Favorable 

In the absence of a parental agreement, the court will order 50/50 physical custody unless one parent proves that the other has committed domestic violence, lives in an unknown location, or cannot care for the child because of substance use disorder or other health problems. 

The judge will also determine whether a different parenting schedule better serves the child’s interests. To decide, he or she will review the child’s physical and emotional well-being; connections to community, school and extended family; and the child’s wishes if he or she is old enough to express a preference. 

Even when parents agree on custody, seeking a court order protects the child’s right to a stable relationship with the entire family.