Separating parents will get joint custody of their children by default under a bill signed into law by Gov. Matt Bevin last week. although the new law creates an exception if a parent has a recent history of domestic violence.
Kentucky is the first state in the country to create a “legal presumption” for joint custody in divorce proceedings.
Supporters of the measure say that joint custody allows for more stable upbringing of children, but critics argue that it unravels protections against abusive parents
Matt Hale, chair of the National Parents Organization in Kentucky, says that current law deprives children of meaningful relationships with their parents.
“Family courts were awarding one parent primary custody and basically all of the parenting time except every other weekendand Wednesday—excluding an otherwise fit parent, basically relegating them to being a visitor in the child’s life.”
Most custody cases are settled between parents before they get to court.
The new law requires judges to grant joint legal custody of children in all cases, unless one of the parents has filed a domestic violence protective order against the other within the last three years.
Mary Savage, general counsel of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, says that the measure takes away discretion from judges tasked with determining a child’s best interest.
"These type of laws are problematic because they take that careful screening that a judge is going to give to each individual family and each individual child that’s involved, they take that out of the judge’s hands somewhat,”
Savage says that there are several instances in which an abusive parent could be granted joint custody under the new law—for example, if domestic violence was committed more than three years before the proceedings or if a violent act was committed against someone besides their spouse or child.
The law takes effect in July.