How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Kansas

Learn more about domestic violence and how it impacts child custody in Kansas.

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has found that over 20,000 acts of domestic violence are reported to the police in the state each year, which means thousands of children witness domestic violence between their parents, with harmful results.

Each state has laws that allow courts to consider domestic violence between parents when deciding child custody. This article will explain how domestic violence is defined in Kansas, and how a history of abuse affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.

Child Custody in Kansas

Kansas judges deciding custody cases must determine "legal custody," which refers to the responsibility to make educational, medical and other major decisions for a child, and "physical custody," meaning the child's living and visitation arrangement with the parents.

Kansas judges determine custody based on what is in the child's best interests. Judges can consider the following factors when deciding legal and physical custody:

  • the child's desires
  • the parents' desires
  • the child's relationship with parents, siblings, and any other person who significantly affects the child's best interests
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent
  • whether either parent is a sex offender or lives with a sex offender
  • whether a parent has been convicted of child abuse or lives with someone who has been convicted of child abuse, and
  • any evidence of domestic violence.

What is Domestic Violence?

Kansas defines domestic violence as an act of violence or a threatened act of violence against a family member, household member, or between people who are dating. If two people used to live together, were married, or used to date each other, any violence between them will be considered domestic violence. Domestic violence also includes acts to harm or destroy another person's property.

What to Do When There is Domestic Violence

If you have just experienced domestic violence or are in fear of immediate future violence, you should dial 911.

If you have been a victim of domestic violence in the past, and fear for your future safety, you should obtain a "Protection From Abuse Order." A protection order restrains your abuser from abusing, molesting, or interfering with your rights or the rights of your child. A protection order may include the following provisions:

  • evict the abuser from the household
  • order the abuser to have no contact with the other parent
  • require the abuser to pay for housing for the other parent and any children
  • award custody to the abused parent
  • order the abuser to pay child support
  • order the abuser to pay the other parent's attorney's fees
  • require the abuser to attend counseling, and
  • order anything else needed to protect the abused parent and child.

To be eligible for a protection from abuse order, one of the following must have happened:

  • the abuser hurt or tried to hurt you or a minor child
  • the abuser threatened to hurt you or a minor child, or
  • the abuser had sex or attempted to have sex with a minor child.

To get a protection order, go to your county district court clerk's office and ask for the forms to request a protection from abuse order. After you complete and file the forms, you'll speak with a judge. If the judge believes you are in danger, he or she will issue a temporary protection order, and schedule a date for a hearing within 20 days.

You and your abuser both must attend the hearing. If the court decides at the hearing that you are in danger, the judge will issue a protection order, lasting one year. The court can extend the order for up to one additional year if the abused parent still fears for his or her safety at the end of the first year.

A parent who disobeys a protection order can be arrested and charged with a crime.

The Kansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a 24-hour hotline for victims to call for assistance. There are also domestic violence programs located in each county of Kansas.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Decisions

Parents must notify the court at the beginning of any custody case if either parent has court proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights. Kansas law also requires each parent to notify the other if he or she is living with someone who is a sex offender or has been convicted of child abuse.

If a parent has committed domestic violence against a child, or against the other parent in the presence of the child, the judge may decide that it is in the child's best interest not to have visitation with that parent.

Kansas courts will presume that it is not a child's best interests to live with a parent who has been convicted of child abuse. A parent who has committed child abuse has the burden of proving to the judge that he or she is able to safely care for the child.

Visitation Restrictions

If a judge does grant visitation to a parent who has committed domestic violence, he or she can order certain restrictions on visitation to protect the abused parent and/or child. The court may:

  • expedite custody proceedings when either parent makes claims of domestic violence, or the safety of a parent or child is in question
  • order child exchanges and/or visitation to take place at a visitation center
  • require parents to undergo physical or mental examinations
  • order the abusive parent to complete counseling before having visitation with the child, and
  • require the abusive parent to post a bond to ensure that he or she returns the child at the end of visitation.

If the court orders physical or mental examinations, supervised visitation, or counseling, the judge can also require the abusive parent to pay the costs for those services.

Termination of Parental Rights

Courts may terminate the parental rights of a parent in extreme circumstances, including when:

  • a parent has grossly mistreated a child physically, emotionally, or in a sexually cruel or abusive nature, or
  • there is an unexplained serious injury or death of another child in the care of the parent.

Even when these circumstances are present, the judge will decide whether termination of parental rights is in the best interests of the child before ending the parent-child relationship.

If you have other questions about domestic violence and child custody in Kansas, contact a local family law attorney.

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