In Kansas, the law presumes that both parents are fit to act in a child’s best interests. With the presumption, if parents can agree to provisions regarding child custody, residency and parenting time, Courts generally accept that agreement as being in a child’s best interest. However, if parents cannot agree, then the law requires that the Court decide the issues of legal custody, the type of residency, and what parenting time will take place.
In Kansas, there are two types of legal custody. An order of joint legal custody means that the parents have equal rights to make decisions in the best interests of the child, including issues of education, non-emergency medical treatment, and religious upbringing. An order of sole legal custody means that only one parent makes those decisions. Most cases result in a determination of joint legal custody given the presumption of both parents being fit, and a determination of sole legal custody requires specific findings by a Court that joint legal custody is not in a child’s best interests.
The term “residency” refers to where the child resides. If the child lives mostly with one parent, we commonly refer to that parent as having “primary residency.” If the child spends equal amounts of time with both parents, it is called “shared residency.” If parents have more than one child the Court could issue orders regarding “divided residency”, or each parent having primary residence of one or more of the children. But, divided residency is rare and requires a special finding by the Court that it is in each child’s best interests.
The term “parenting time”, or what was previously referred to as visitation, simply means the time each parent spends with the children. Parenting time, and co-parenting duties, or those duties each parent owes to the other and to the children, are set forth in a parenting plan. Generally, parenting plans are specific enough to ensure clarity for both parents, and the children as to when parenting time will occur, and how it will occur. However, the parenting plan also provides for flexibility when parents agree to allow for changes that normally occur in parenting children.
If parents agree upon legal custody, residency, and parenting time for their children, then their agreement is presumed to be in the best interests for the children and the Court will adopt the agreement as its order. If parents cannot agree upon custody, residency, or parenting time, the Court must make the decision. In doing so the Court considers a list of 18 non-exclusive factors in determining a child’s best interests, some of which include:
The above list is not a complete list of what the Court can consider while making decisions regarding children. In addition, while all factors are important, respecting the bond between a child and the other parent is particularly important to Courts in deciding which parenting is acting in the child’s best interests.
A large portion of Ward Potter LLC’s practice is devoted to child custody and parenting time disputes. Many attorneys shy away from such cases, but we feel that there is no more important aspect of family law than dealing with issues pertaining to children. We view this area as one in which we can have a significantly positive impact on lives.
There are many nuances to custody and parenting time issues. Each case is unique and cannot be approached with a “cookie cutter” mentality. For example, the Court typically requires that parents who are disputing custody or parenting time must participate in some form of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation. Both Lynn Ward and Tony Potter have attended mediation trainings, and they have conducted as mediators, or attended with clients, hundreds of mediation sessions.
Most cases are resolved through settlement negotiations or alternative dispute resolution. However, if settlement is not an option, then we are experienced in helping our clients pursue custody and parenting time matters through the Court system, including evidentiary hearings and trials.
If you are facing a child custody, residency, or parenting time issue, the first step is to complete a questionnaire which elicits the information needed by your attorney to prepare the documents that she will file with the Court on your behalf. Please go to the “Client Resource” page and click on Forms to the questionnaire that is best for you. We offer it in PDF or Microsoft Word format. You may bring the questionnaire with you to your first meeting with the attorneys at Ward Potter LLC.