Kentucky law changes direction on custody cases

Kentucky is making waves among divorcing parents as it becomes the first of the states to establish the idea of joint custody for both parents as the default legal option.

Joint custody is generally preferred by experts who believe that it helps steady the life of a child whose parents end up divorced. It's also heavily preferred by a lot of parents who feel they would be cheated out of precious time with their children under the old default model of custody, which essentially gave primary physical custody to just one parent. The other parent had to make do with little more than alternate weekend visits and occasional weeknights. Many parents, especially fathers, felt that they were being punished for getting divorced under the old way of doing things.

Judges are still expected to disregard the law if there is domestic abuse involved in the marriage or child abuse. Absent those issues, judges in custody cases are supposed to start with the idea that joint custody is best. Time with each parent can then be adjusted based on a variety of factors including how well one parent is willing to facilitate a child's relationship with the other parent and their relative locations to each other.

The law doesn't have the support of all parties, however. Many feel that it hamstrings judges in cases where a parent's history of violence hasn't been proven in court -- which can be a problem given that criminal courts require a higher standard of proof than is typically used in family court. They say the new law interferes with a judge's duty to determine what's really in the best interests of the child on a case-by-case basis, which is often necessary.

Parents who are able to agree on custody between themselves don't have to worry about the changes -- the courts are still willing to accept other arrangements when everybody involved thinks that it is best. In the end, that may encourage divorcing parents to negotiate better with each other since they know the court's new starting point. It's worth noting that Kentucky isn't really an outlier -- at least 25 states are considering such changes to their laws as well.

Source: WFPL.com, "Joint Custody Will Be The Default Under New Kentucky Law," Ryland Barton, April 29, 2018

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