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Kentucky adjusts parental custody in divorce

Kentucky is at the forefront of a movement to presume that parents should have equal custody of their children after a divorce.

A new law, signed by Gov. Matt Bevin in April and enacted in July, requires judges to enter each divorce case under the presumption that joint custody is best for the children and each parent should have the child 50 percent of the time.

A presumption of shared custody

Under that presumption, the judge can then make allowances for factors such as domestic violence, drug abuse or other issues when deciding custody.

The previous standard was to appoint a primary caregiver for the children and then allow the other parent visitation – usually every other weekend, time during the summer and several holidays.

Kentucky is the first state to require judges to start each custody case under the presumption that a 50-50 sharing arrangement is best for the children.

Often, the parent determined to be the primary caregiver was the mother. There have been cases when the mother was given primary care over the children even though she is not the most qualified, prompting cries of gender bias among fathers and their attorneys.

Provide for a better upbringing

Supports, citing a variety of studies, say the new law provides for a more stable upbringing for the children. Meanwhile, critics fear the law won’t offer enough protection against abusive parents, especially if a protection order wasn’t filed properly.

While the majority of divorce cases are settled between parents and their lawyers before they get to court, supporters hope the law will help stave off court battles between couples with the children at the center since the hearing starts with the presumption of joint custody.

While Kentucky is the first state to have passed such a law, more than 25 states are considering a similar law.