How the New Kentucky Shared Parenting Law May Impact Child Custody Cases
Last June, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed into law House Bill 528. This bill creates the presumption that joint custody and equally-shared parenting time is in the best interests of the child when both parents are determined to be fit caregivers. This means that shared parenting (i.e., 50/50 parenting) is now the starting point for the child custody discussion, and the burden of proof falls upon either party to show that there should be an alternate arrangement.
The bill enjoyed overwhelming bi-partisan support, passing by a vote of 81-2 in the Kentucky House and unanimously in the Senate. This comes a year after the state enacted a law creating a presumption of shared parenting in temporary custody orders.
While joint custody arrangements have been widely used by Kentucky courts (and courts in many other states) in recent years, this new law goes further than any other state. It makes 50/50 parenting the default arrangement for the courts to consider, putting both parents on equal footing in child custody cases.
The key change in the custody law is summarized in this passage from the text of the bill:
There shall be a presumption, rebuttable by a preponderance of evidence, that joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child. If a deviation from equal parenting time is warranted, the court shall construct a parenting time schedule which maximizes the time each parent or de facto custodian has with the child and is consistent with ensuring the child’s welfare.
What is Shared Parenting?
The goal of shared parenting is to allow both parents to remain actively involved in the lives of their children. There are two primary components to this arrangement; equal decision-making authority (often referred to as “joint legal custody”), and equal physical parenting time (i.e., “joint physical custody”). Legal custody has to do with decisions such as religious upbringing, what school the child will attend, health care, and extracurricular activities the child will be involved in. Parenting time has to do with the number of days during the year the child spends with each parent.
The decision-making component of the shared parenting plan is often the least complicated of the two. Parents can often work out an agreement where they consult each other on major decisions that must be made for the child. Equal parenting time can be a lot more challenging. Coming up with a 50/50 parenting time arrangement that works for both parents and the child depends largely on the parents’ schedules, how close they live to each other, and other important factors.
When Can the Court Deviate from the Shared Parenting Arrangement?
The new law does not mean that judges must grant shared custody to parents in all or even most cases. The court is still allowed to deviate from the default arrangement when it is not practical, or when it goes against the best interests of the child. There are several factors the court considers in determining if the presumption of joint custody and equally-shared parenting time is appropriate. These include:
- The wishes of the parent(s) and the wishes any de facto custodian of the child;
- The child’s relationship with a de facto custodian;
- The wishes of the child, with due consideration to the influence a parent or de facto custodian may have over the child’s wishes;
- The motivation of the adults in the participation of the child custody proceedings;
- The current involvement of each parent in the life of the child;
- The physical and mental health of each parent;
- The level of cooperation between the parents;
- The child’s adjustment and continued proximity to his/her home, school, or community;
- Any finding by the court that domestic violence or abuse has occurred.
How Will the New Kentucky Law Affect my Child Custody Proceeding?
Every situation is unique, and as mentioned in the previous section, the court is able to consider multiple factors in deciding the appropriate child custody arrangement for each individual case. That said, joint custody and equally shared parenting time is presumed to be in the best interest of the child going into the proceeding.
If a parent disagrees with this presumption, that alone is not enough for the court to deviate from the newly established standard. For this reason, it is important for parents involved in this type of proceeding to have skilled legal counsel in your corner to help negotiate a workable arrangement with the other party, or to effectively present their arguments to the court.
At the law offices of John H. Ruby & Associates, we understand that child custody is often an emotionally-charged issue, and we have extensive experience representing clients with these types of cases. We have in-depth knowledge of Kentucky laws and how they are typically applied by the courts, and we work closely with our clients to help ensure that their child custody arrangement protects their rights and interests and the best interests of their children.
For a personalized consultation with one of our experienced Kentucky family law attorneys, call our office today at 502-895-2626. You may also send us a message through our web contact form or stop by our Louisville office in person.