Area of Law:
When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, a Missouri court will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. For a summary of child custody law in Missouri, go to divorcesource.com.
There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.
In Missouri, child custody decisions are made according to the best interests of the child. When deciding how much time each parent should spend with the child, Missouri law recommends that courts consider the following factors:
- The wishes of the parents and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties
- The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship with both parents, and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and, community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved
- The intention of either parent to relocate
- The wishes of the child
- Whether the child is home-schooled
When awarding custody in Missouri, courts will not give preference to either parent based on the parent's age, sex, or financial status, nor will they give preference based on the age or sex of the child. However, any act of domestic violence against a child is a bar to custody in Missouri. A non-custodial parent is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless, after a hearing, the court finds that visitation would endanger the child's physical health or impair his or her emotional development.
After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the appropriate Missouri court, both parents must abide by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may petition the court to revisit the issue. The judge may decide to modify the visitation order, provide makeup visitation for the time missed, or order counseling or mediation. For a full explanation of divorce and child custody laws in the state of Missouri, go to lawyers.com.