Can I get “full custody” of my child?

There is no such thing as “full custody” and no one is ever sure what someone means when they say that they want or have “full custody.” Kansas law does not recognize any such designation. Kansas law attempts to maximize the time both parents are able to spend with their child. The courts are required to enter an appropriate parenting schedule in every case. Kansas law recognizes that every parent is entitled to appropriate time with his or her children and that every child is entitled to appropriate time with his or her parents. This schedule is, in the first instance determined by parental agreement. If the parents are unable to agree between themselves, then the court will order an appropriate parenting schedule. While courts determine child custody issues, Kansas law recognizes that there are three separate parts to any child custody issue:

First, “legal custody” or “decision-making.”

An order of “legal custody” defines the decision-making powers held by the parents and the decision-making relationship of those parents. Kansas law presumes that both parents should share decision making power and, in the absence of some specific finding that the child is at risk if the court orders a shared decision making arrangement, Kansas courts will order what is termed “joint legal custody.”  “Joint legal custody” does not have anything to do with the person with whom the child lives. It only has to do with decision making. The alternative is “sole legal custody” and may be ordered by the court only in those circumstances in which the court makes a specific finding that it is not in the best interest of the child that a parent have the power to participate equally in decision making regarding the child. Even if the court grants “sole legal custody,” the parent not granted sole legal custody has the right to obtain any and all information regarding the child’s health, education and welfare unless the court makes an additional specific finding that access to such information by the other parent would be harmful to the child.

Second, “residency” or where the home is in which the child lives.

Residency can be primarily with one parent or shared by both parents. Kansas law does not require that the courts make any “residency” finding – that is, Kansas law does not require that the court designate either or both parents as residential custodians. “Residency” is often used by parents and others as a label, rather than for any helpful purpose and the courts have, therefore, deemphasized this designation in child custody orders.

Third, a schedule of “parenting time.”

Kansas law requires that the parents agree to or that the court order an appropriate schedule of parenting time for both parents, unless the court specifically finds that the child would be in danger. The time set out in agreements or orders that each parent has with the child  is to protect both parents and the child from misunderstandings.