Courts must further the best interests of the child in determining an appropriate custody arrangement in Kentucky. This requires a judge to consider several factors outlined in state law, including the specific needs of the child and parents, the child's adjustment to home, school, and his community, and the relationship the child has to each parent. The courts have tremendous leeway in crafting a shared custody arrangement or having custody awarded solely to one parent. If one parent receives sole custody, the other parent generally has some contact with his child through visitation.
Kentucky law allows judges in certain circumstances to consider a child's preference in determining whether any particular custody or visitation arrangement suits his best interests. Unlike some states, Kentucky does not require that the child be a specific age before being allowed to participate. However, a judge may be inclined to disregard the child's preference if he is not sufficiently mature enough to form a reasonable opinion.
Even if a child is found to be sufficiently mature to provide a reasonable opinion regarding custody, the preference is not necessarily controlling. Instead, the court may find that other factors are more indicative of the child's best interest. An example might be if the parent with whom the child wants to live has repeatedly caused physical or emotional harm to him. In this case, the court could find that the child should live with the other parent.
Once a custody or visitation schedule is in place, it may be modified in certain instances in Kentucky. In a modification proceeding, the court also may consider a child's preference. If the child has become more mature since the time of the original order, his opinion may be given more credence. This might be true if a child was a toddler when custody was established, but is now in high school.