Although parenting in modern times has allegedly become more equitable, many parents, especially fathers, still feel at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody matters. In many cases, one parent (usually the mother) is still given primary custody and the other is relegated to scheduled visitation.

A new law in Kentucky aims to combat this perceived bias. In May, Governor Matt Bevin signed House Bill 528 into law. HB 528 makes several changes to existing Kentucky custody laws, chief among them the presumption that joint custody and equally-shared parenting time serve the best interests of the child.

What does this mean for parents going through divorce?

The court has always used the children’s “best interests” as the standard for determining custody and parenting time. Ideally, parents could set aside their personal differences and agree to co-parent effectively, act rationally and split time equitably with their kids.

Such idyllic arrangements are rare, however, as many who’ve gone through divorce with kids can attest. More often than not, custody comes down to an argument over parenting skills. Each parent vigorously demonstrates how and why their household is better at upholding the children’s best interests. The goal in such cases is to prove why you deserve primary custody.

This updated law essentially changes the parameters of the argument. Instead of trying to determine which household will better protect the children’s best interests, the court will start by assuming parents will share joint custody and parenting time. Parents will instead need to demonstrate why shared parenting won’t work — beyond the fact that they’re getting divorced or separating. Valid reasons could include:

  • Verified domestic abuse, neglect or emotional abuse of the children (including parental alienation)
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Financial instability or homelessness
  • Incarceration

Why the change?

More and more studies have demonstrated the important role both parents play in healthy child development. This is especially true for children of divorce. When parents divorce, children often feel they are to blame or that one parent no longer loves them. Active and engaged parenting from both parents mitigates these feelings and helps children manage the transition of divorce better.

Practically speaking, though, if you only see your kids once a week or every other weekend, you don’t have the time or space to parent effectively. Your home becomes a fun vacation from their “normal” life. It’s also harder to combat parental alienation if their other parent bad-mouths you behind your back or asks your kids to “spy” on you during their visits.

Kentucky’s updated law seeks to prevent such destructive situations by protecting each parent’s right to develop a healthy, loving relationship with their children post-divorce.

Furthermore, more “traditional” custody arrangements reflect outdated gender roles, where a mother would stay at home with the kids while a father worked to support the family. Today, parents of both genders tend to balance work with family. This new law reflects a modern understanding of how families function today and represents a big win for those who have traditionally felt marginalized by the divorce process.