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Kentucky became the only state to require default joint custody when the state legislature passed a new law to that effect in 2018. Under these guidelines, parents will receive equal legal custody and parenting time except in cases involving domestic abuse.

If you live in Kentucky and share children with your spouse, these are the steps to creating an effective parenting agreement that aligns with the new state laws.

Understanding physical and legal custody

Legal custody describes each parent’s right to have input on important decisions affecting a child’s upbringing and well-being. Both parents, even when one has more parenting time than the other, have an equal say in the child’s schooling, health care, religious instruction and other important decisions.

Physical custody describes the time the child spends living with each parent. Some families prefer 50/50 physical custody, while others establish one parent as the physical custodian with the other sharing parenting time.

Reaching an agreement with your ex-spouse

The new law mandates 50/50 physical custody as a starting point for establishing a parenting time agreement, assuming that both parents agree with this arrangement. The exact percentage of time spent with each parent can vary depending on where they reside, where the child goes to school and other pertinent factors.

Ideally, you and the child’s other parent will create a parenting agreement independently or through mediation or negotiation. Rarely, a custody case goes to trial when parents are unable to agree.

Reviewing the best interest standard

When one parent seeks sole custody in Kentucky, he or she must prove to the court that the other parent committed domestic violence. When parents cannot agree on a parenting time split, the court will order 50/50 physical custody presuming this arrangement suits the child’s best interests.

The court will schedule a hearing at which both parents can present evidence to support their position. The judge will consider factors that include the child’s wishes if he or she is school-age, his or her existing family and peer relationships, attachment to school and community and overall well-being.