How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Kentucky

By , Attorney · Harvard Law School
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Kentucky courts believe that domestic violence has a significant, negative impact on children. Whether a child is abused or not, witnessing domestic violence in the household has long-lasting negative effects on the child's future relationships. For this reason, state laws typically require that judges consider a parent's domestic violence history when deciding custody.

This article explains Kentucky law's definition of domestic violence and how it 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 Kentucky

In all child custody cases, Kentucky courts must decide "legal custody," referring to which parent will make major decisions regarding the child's education, health, and activities, and "physical custody," which refers to the child's legal residence and visitation schedule with each parent.

Kentucky courts deciding custody give equal consideration to each parent and determine custody according to what is in the child's best interests. A Kentucky judge will consider the following factors:

  • the parents' wishes
  • the child's wishes
  • the child's relationship with parents, siblings, and any other person significantly affecting the child's best interests
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and
  • any evidence of domestic violence by either parent.

What is Domestic Violence?

Kentucky law defines domestic violence as violence between family members, people living in the same household, or unmarried couples, including the following acts:

  • non-accidental physical injury
  • sexual abuse
  • assault, or
  • threats of any of the above acts.

What to Do When There is Domestic Violence

If you have recently experienced domestic violence or are in immediate fear of your safety you should dial 911.

If you have been abused in the past and are afraid of future domestic violence, you should apply for a "Domestic Violence Order," or "DVO." The DVO provides certain protections for you and your family from an abuser. The DVO may order the following:

  • prohibit the abuser from committing any further domestic violence
  • restrain the abuser from any contact with the abused parent
  • prohibit the abuser from damaging the abused parent's property
  • evict the abuser from the household
  • prohibit the abuser from going within 500 feet of the school, residence, or place of employment of the abused parent or abused parent's family
  • grant the abused parent custody of any children
  • order the abuser to pay child support, and
  • order the abuser to wear a global positioning monitoring system (GPS device).

To apply for a protective order, go to your county circuit court clerk's office and request the forms to apply for an "Emergency Protective Order," or "EPO." Once you complete the forms, you will receive an EPO that lasts 14 days, during which time the court will schedule a hearing to decide if you need further protection.

You and your abuser must both appear for the protective order hearing. If the judge believes that you are in danger of future domestic violence, the court will issue a DVO, which lasts 3 years.

If your abuser violates the DVO, he or she can be fined up to $500 and sentenced to up to 12 months in jail.

The Kentucky Domestic Violence Association has a 24-hour hotline, as well as other resources on their website. There are also domestic violence shelters located throughout Kentucky that provide shelter for victims, as well as support groups and other information.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Decisions

Kentucky courts must consider how domestic violence and abuse has affected the child, and the child's relationship with his or her parents, before awarding custody. In any child custody case, both parents must notify the court of either parent's court proceedings relating to domestic violence, protective orders or termination of parental rights.

The court can order an investigation by a third party into a child's potential custody arrangements before awarding custody. The judge can keep any information from the investigation private, if necessary to protect the child's well-being.

If a parent leaves a child with the other parent to escape domestic violence, the court won't count that against the absent parent when deciding custody.

The court won't grant a parent visitation if the judge believes that it will endanger the child's physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. If the judge determines that a parent has committed domestic violence, he or she can deny visitation altogether, or place restrictions on visitation.

Visitation Restrictions

When the court grants visitation to a parent who has committed domestic violence, the judge may institute conditions meant to protect the abused parent and child. The court may:

  • order that all visitation be supervised by a third party or child supervision agency
  • require that child custody exchanges happen in a safe location, such as a public building with metal detectors, and,
  • order the local probation department or child welfare department to ensure that parents are following the court's visitation conditions.

Termination of Parental Rights

A Kentucky court may terminate all parental rights of a minor child in the following circumstances:

  • the parent has inflicted serious physical injury on the child at issue
  • the parent has been convicted of a felony involving serious physical injury to any child
  • the parent has abused the child at issue, and abuse or neglect is likely to continue if parental rights aren't terminated, or
  • the parent has been convicted of physical or sexual abuse of any child, and the child at issue is in danger of such abuse.

In all of these circumstances, the judge will only terminate parental rights if he or she believes it is in the child's best interests.

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

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