When your marriage ends, child custody is likely the biggest among many pressing concerns. Where and with whom will your children live after the divorce? If you are not married to your child’s other parent, you may worry about receiving custody and visitation and protecting your parental rights.

In 2018, Kentucky became the only state with a default joint custody law. The court presumes joint custody for minor children except in cases involving domestic abuse.

Determining legal vs. physical custody

The joint custody presumption applies to both physical custody (parenting time) and legal custody. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions about your child’s medical care, education, religious upbringing and other issues. Even when a child spends less than half the time with one parent, that parent still has joint legal custody unless the court determines otherwise.

Creating a parenting agreement

Few custody cases go to trial. Usually, parents agree on a parenting plan either together independently or with the help of a mediator and/or their attorneys.

Under state guidelines, division of parenting time should start at 50/50. Parents can make adjustments to the exact split and schedule depending on the residential location of each parent, the child’s education and other factors.

Attending the court hearing

When parents cannot agree on a parenting plan and/or one parent is seeking sole custody, the Kentucky court will decide custody based on the child’s best interest. This standard considers the wishes of both the parents and school-age children, the child’s existing relationship with siblings and other family members, whether a parent has presented evidence of domestic abuse, the child’s involvement in the current school and community and the mental and physical health status of all parties.

At the hearing, both parents will have the opportunity to present evidence related to their position. Based on the evidence, the judge will create a legally binding parenting plan that details child custody and visitation.