It is common for a divorcing parent to worry about losing his or her child in a divorce — or that a divorce means he or she won’t be as important in his or her child’s life as before. Kansas courts generally believe that a child has a right to have access to both parents. But what does that mean?

When each parent has an equal voice in making important decisions concerning a child’s future, it is called joint custody. Those decisions include issues like religion, education, and medical treatment. Joint custody means that neither parent has a greater right to decide what is in the child’s best interest than the other. Joint custody is the most common custody arrangement.

Joint custody means equal decision-making rights, but it does not mean that the child will spend equal time with each parent. Ideally, the parents (with the help of their lawyers or mediators)will be able to arrange a parenting schedule that will accommodate the needs of their child and their work schedules and maximize the time each parent can spend with the child. If the parents are able to agree on a schedule, the court will presume that it is in their child’s best interests. If the parents are unable to agree, they forfeit the opportunity to make that decision. A judge must then decide what is best for their child. From my perspective, it is easier on the child if the parents reach an agreement, rather than battling the issue out in court—with the child’s time as the prize.

When parents can’t reach an agreement, is there any way to predict what a judge will do? Do judges typically believe that a child should be with the mother? In Kansas, there is no maternal preference. There is no paternal preference, either. The court’s guiding consideration will be the child’s best interests, not the interests of the parents. The court will generally consider several factors, including which parent has been the primary parent. For example, who generally takes care of the child when sick? Who tells the bedtime story? Who gets up in the middle of the night when the child has a nightmare? Who takes the child to the doctor? Who brings birthday treats to the school? In most cases, because the court will try to keep the child in an environment that is as stable and secure as possible, the parenting time chosen by the court will reflect a schedule that is already familiar to the child.

For more information on this topic, contact Julia Craft, Kristine Lawless, or Rebecca Sisk at our Wichita (316-262-9393), Topeka (785-234-3272), or Lawrence (785-856-0143) offices.