Child Custody in Kansas: The Best Interests of the Child

Learn about the "best interests" standard and how it applies to child custody cases in Kansas.

When parents get divorced, they must try to work out a custody arrangement and parenting schedule. If they’re not able to agree, a judge must make decisions about child custody and visitation. Kansas law provides that parents can be awarded legal custody, residency, or both.  Legal custody refers to right and responsibility to make educational, religious, moral, and legal decisions about the child.  Residency refers to the right to decide where the child will live.  

Kansas courts prefer to award joint legal custody to both parents, unless it is in the best interests of the child to award sole legal custody to only one parent.  

In Kansas, a judge, not a jury, decides how to divide legal custody and residency of the child based on what is in the best interests of the child.  This best interests standard also guides decisions about visitation.  The court has broad discretion to determine the best interests of the child and will consider all relevant factors, including:

  • the parents’ wishes as to the child’s custody and residence of the child
  • the child’s wishes as to custody and residence;
  • the relationship between the child and each of the parents
  • the child’s relationship with other siblings who are in each parent’s home
  • the child’s relationship with any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
  • the child’s behavior and involvement in school, the community, and at home
  • each parent’s ability to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • each parent’s history of child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect

These factors are not exhaustive or exclusive.  If one parent offers other relevant information, the judge will consider it in determining the best interests of the child.

Kansas does not automatically presume that it is in the best interests of an infant or young child to be placed with the mother—the determination of whether the father or mother gets custody is based on all relevant evidence of what is in the child’s best interests.

However, if one of the parents is living with a person who must register as a sex offender or who has been convicted of child abuse, there is a rebuttable presumption that it is not in the child’s best interests to be placed with that parent.  This means the court starts with that presumption, but it can be overcome if the parent presents enough evidence.  

To assist the court in determining the best interests of the child, the judge may appoint an investigator to evaluate the child’s needs and each parent’s ability to meet those needs.  The court may also order that either parent undergo physical or mental examinations.  The investigator’s recommendations based on these investigations and examinations are not binding on the court, but the court will give them significant weight.  

In Kansas, if the parties have already entered into an agreed parenting plan, the court will usually presume that the parenting plan is in the child’s best interest.    However, the parenting plan is also not binding on the court.    A judge can still find that the parenting plan is not in the best interests of the child and order alternative arrangements based upon the evidence presented.

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