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How is custody determined in Kentucky?

In Kentucky, custody of a minor child is governed by chapter 403 of the Kentucky revised statutes. Under KRS 403.270, Custodial issues are determined by applying a best interest of the child standard. What does this ultimately mean?

In the summer of 2018, the Kentucky legislature took a major departure from prior law and passed new custody legislation (modifying the prior provisions, in part, of KRS 403.270) which includes a rebuttable presumption that joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the child’s best interest. The joint custody and equal time presumption is unique, new, and not something that we find in the sister state of Ohio (Ohio’s code has no such presumption).

In addition to the rebuttable presumption language, the law in Kentucky uses a unique process for determining who is an appropriate/eligible person to ask for custody of a child. The law includes De-facto custodian language.

A De factor custodian is someone who has been the primary caregiver for, and financial supporter of, a child who has resided with the person for a period of six (6) months or more if the child is under three (3) years of age and for a period of one (1) year or more if the child is three (3) years of age or older or has been placed by the Department for Community Based Services. Any period of time after a legal proceeding has been commenced by a parent seeking to regain custody of the child shall not be included in determining whether the child has resided with the person for the required minimum period.

A person shall not be a de facto custodian until a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that the person meets the definition of de facto custodian established in paragraph (a) of this subsection. Once a court determines that a person meets the definition of de facto custodian, the court shall give the person the same standing in custody matters that is given to each parent under this section and KRS 403.280, 403.340, 403.350, 403.822, and 405.020.

What does the De facto custodian requirement really mean?

This often presents itself in matters where custody is sought by a non-parent, often a grandparent, aunt, or other relative or non-relative. Without meeting the de facto custodian requirements, a person is not eligible for custody of a child in Kentucky (there are exceptions to gaining custody, for example, if the biological parents agree for such person to have custody of a child).

In addition, and most importantly to a determination of custody, are the best interest factors that the court must consider under Kentucky law:

The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child and equal consideration shall be given to each parent and to any de facto custodian. Subject to KRS 403.315, there shall be a presumption, rebuttable by a preponderance of evidence, that joint custody and equally shared parenting time is in the best interest of the child. If a deviation from equal parenting time is warranted, the court shall construct a parenting time schedule which maximizes the time each parent or de facto custodian has with the child and is consistent with ensuring the child’s welfare. The court shall consider all relevant factors including:

(a) The wishes of the child’s parent or parents, and any de facto custodian, as to his or her custody;

(b) The wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, with due consideration given to the influence a parent or de facto custodian may have over the child’s wishes;

(c) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

(d) The motivation of the adults participating in the custody proceeding;

(e) The child’s adjustment and continuing proximity to his or her home, school, and community;

(f) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;

(g) A finding by the court that domestic violence and abuse, as defined in KRS 403.720, has been committed by one (1) of the parties against a child of the parties or against another party. The court shall determine the extent to which the domestic violence and abuse has affected the child and the child’s relationship to each party, with due consideration given to efforts made by a party toward the completion of any domestic violence treatment, counseling, or program;

(h) The extent to which the child has been cared for, nurtured, and supported by any de facto custodian;

(i) The intent of the parent or parents in placing the child with a de facto custodian;

(j) The circumstances under which the child was placed or allowed to remain in the custody of a de facto custodian, including whether the parent now seeking custody was previously prevented from doing so as a result of domestic violence as defined in KRS 403.720 and whether the child was placed with a de facto custodian to allow the parent now seeking custody to seek employment, work, or attend school; and

(k) The likelihood a party will allow the child frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent or de facto custodian, except that the court shall not consider this likelihood if there is a finding that the other parent or de facto custodian engaged in domestic violence and abuse, as defined in KRS 403.720, against the party or a child and that a continuing relationship with the other parent will endanger the health or safety of either that party or the child.


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Maria Ante

I am a practicing attorney, licensed in KY and OH. I'm a solo practicing attorney, with a general practice and focus on small business law, family law/domestic relations, criminal defense, estate planning, and personal injury. I currently live in Hebron, KY with my husband, Tim, our son, Beau, our daughter, Rory, and our two Siberian Huskies, Truman and Sprocket. Reading and exercising are my passions. I love running and basketball, I practice yoga, and I enjoy many other fun physical activities!

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