Kentucky State Child Custody Guidelines

By Wayne Thomas

Portrait of mother with daughter

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For divorcing couples with minor children, determining custody can be a major source of conflict. In Kentucky, state law places the interests of the child above the wishes of the parents, and a court must consider several factors in crafting all custody orders. Once in place, a parent can petition the court for a modification of the custody order in limited circumstances.

Types of Custody

Kentucky recognizes two types of custody, legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the ability to make major decisions regarding your child, such as those related to school choice, religious affiliation and medical treatment. Physical custody refers to where the child spends overnights. Both types of custody can be held solely by one parent or shared between parents in Kentucky. A shared arrangement is known as joint custody.

Factors for Custody

The best interests of the child are paramount in all custody determinations made in Kentucky. Before ordering any custody arrangement, the court will consider several factors outlined in state law. These factors include the mental and physical health of the parents and child; child's adjustment to home, school and community; and extent of the relationship between the child and each parent. Not all factors need to be given equal weight in the analysis and a judge may consider any other relevant factors.

Visitation Rights

In Kentucky, if one parent is awarded sole physical custody, the other parent is typically entitled to reasonable visitation. However, visitation can be denied if a court determines, after a hearing, that the parent poses a threat to the physical, mental, moral or emotional health of the child. Either parent can request that the visitation order contain detailed information regarding visitation, including when, where and how long each visit is to last. Further, if domestic violence has occurred, a court can only order visitation if appropriate precautions can be taken to ensure the safety of the child, such as supervised visits. If a parent has been convicted of murdering the other parent, visitation will be denied unless the court finds that contact with that parent would be in the child's best interest.

Modification of Custody

Once an initial custody order is in place in Kentucky, it generally cannot be modified for two years. An exception to this rule applies if a parent can show that the current arrangement poses a threat to the physical, mental, moral or emotional health of the child. After the two-year waiting period, a parent who wants to modify an existing order must demonstrate to the court that there has been a change in circumstances that were unknown at the time of the initial order, requiring a modification to serve the best interests of the child. An example might be if one parent in a joint custody arrangement became too ill to properly care for the child.