In this Q&A, family law attorney Laurel Driskell answers questions about Kansas-specific child custody, visitation rights and child support.
Q: What is a child custody arrangement?
Laurel Driskell: Child custody arrangements have two elements. There is legal custody, which allows one or both parents to make legal decisions for the child/ren, and there is physical custody, which is the right to house and provide daily care for a child. In an ideal world, following a legal separation or divorce, parents will agree to joint or shared custody. However, when parents disagree about custody arrangements, Kansas law allows the court to analyze the situation and create a custody plan for the parents and child/ren.
Q: What legal decisions might I have to make for my child/ren?
LD: When joint custody is awarded, each parent has the right to make educational, religious, moral and healthcare decisions for their child/ren. If parents cannot agree on something (i.e., where the child/ren should attend school), the court will decide for them. However, if a court grants sole legal custody to one parent, the custodial parent can make decisions for the child/ren without seeking approval from the other parent.
Q: If I go to court to seek child custody, what is the likely outcome?
LD: The court makes decisions on a case-by-case basis. However, because the law encourages stability for children, judges are more likely to give one parent primary custody or residency and the other parenting time (visitation) if the parents are not in agreement with a shared residential plan. If it is not clear who would be the best guardian for the child/ren, the judge may appoint an investigator to analyze the child/ren's needs and each parent's ability to provide those needs to aid the court in establishing the child/ren's best interests. The court may also order that one or both parents be examined physically or mentally.
Q: If I am assigned parenting time or visitation rights, what does that involve?
LD: When a judge grants primary residency to one parent, the non-custodial parent and the child/ren are usually given a suitable parenting time plan. For example, a non-custodial parent’s parenting time schedule with the child may look like every other weekend, alternating holidays and half of summer and other school vacations.
When the court sets a visitation plan for the non-custodial parent, it sets a minimum, not a maximum, amount of parenting time for the non-custodial parent. In other words, if the parents agree, a non-custodial parent can spend as much time with the child/ren as they like.
However, the opposite situation may also occur if the judge believes parenting time may jeopardize the child/ren’s physical, mental, moral or emotional health. In that case, the court may limit or set restrictions on parenting time between a parent and child. For example, the court may reject parenting time, mandate supervised visits (no overnights), or order that parenting time is spent at a court-approved visitation center in some cases.
Q: Can I decline to pay child support if denied visiting rights?
LD: No. In Kansas, child support and visitation are treated as two different issues by statute. Therefore, a parent cannot deny visitation to enforce a child support order or withhold child support to enforce visitation rights. If a parent is denied visitation, they can file a motion with the court to enforce it with the help of an attorney.
Q: I am concerned about child custody arrangements. Who should I talk to?
The family law attorneys at Kennedy Berkley are happy to answer your questions and support you during this difficult period. Laurel Driskell may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our main line at (785) 825-4674.