Child Custody Decisions in Missouri

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 What is Child Custody in Missouri?

There are two kinds of child custody. First, Legal custody, which means who makes important decisions for your children (such as health care, education, and welfare). Second is physical custody, which refers to the parent with whom your children reside.

For instance, parents granted legal custody make decisions or choices about their children:

  • School or child care;
  • Religious activities or institutions;
  • Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs;
  • Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health professional (except in emergencies);
  • Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities;
  • Travel; and
  • Residence (where the children will live).

Furthermore, parents who share legal custody have the authority to decide on these aspects of their children’s lives, but they do not have to concur on every decision. Either parent can make a decision alone. But to avoid problems and ending up back in court, parents should communicate and collaborate in making decisions together.

Moreover, courts award joint legal custody in the overwhelming majority of cases. When one parent has a severe criminal record or history, substance abuse problem, or history of child neglect, then the court may grant sole legal custody. Also, the court may grant sole legal custody if there is a history of severe domestic violence between the parents.

What is the Difference Between Joint and Sole Legal Custody?

JJoint legal custody is where both parents share the right and responsibility to make significant decisions about children’s health, education, and welfare. On the other hand, sole legal custody is where only one parent has the authority and right to make important decisions about children’s health, education, and welfare. In a joint custody situation, the Children live with both parents. But in a Sole custody situation, the children reside with one parent most of the time and generally visit the other parent.

Moreover, joint physical custody does not require the children to spend exactly half the time with each parent. Generally, children spend a little more time with one parent than the other because it is too challenging to split the time exactly in half.

Sometimes, a judge grants parents joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. This means that both parents are responsible for making important decisions in the children’s lives, but the children live with one parent most of the time. Generally, the parent who does not have physical custody has visitation with the children.

What is a Petition for Child Custody in Missouri?

The Missouri Courts describe what the Petition for Child Custody is. It is a petition to be used in special circumstances where the requirements for the establishment of paternity have been met under Missouri law, but no custody order (Parenting Plan) is in place. A person is presumed to be a parent when a mother and father sign an Affidavit.

Moreover, acknowledging paternity in the hospital when the child is born, or a man who believes he is the father of a child files a Declaration of Paternity with the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records. Paternity is established when a court enters a judgment finding that a person is the legal parent of a child. An administrative order of child support, by itself, cannot establish paternity.

Lastly, a court order for child support may or may not establish custody rights between the parents and the child. A child has a right to frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents, as mandated under Missouri law.

A court order for custody contains a Parenting Plan that specifically addresses the rights and responsibilities of the parents, as well as the times and places both parents have for parenting time with the child. A court order for parenting time (also known as “visitation”) is enforceable by the court.

How Do I Know if Paternity Has Been Established?

A man can be recognized as the father of the child by one of the following:

  • Consent: Mother and father both may sign an Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity in the hospital at the time the child is born; or
  • Declaration of Paternity: A man who believes he is the father of the child can file a Declaration of Paternity with the Missouri Bureau of Vital Records; or
  • Judgment: A judgment entered by a court finding that a man is indeed the legal father of the child.

However, an administrative order for child support is not a court order and, by itself, will not establish custody. When a court approves the administrative child support order, it may have a judicial custody determination.

Lastly, you must examine the court order that sets child support or involves the child. If the order declares a determination of paternity (names a legal father), you may use the Petition for Child Custody if you are named as a parent, and there is no court-ordered Parenting Plan (custody order).

What is the Process for Obtaining a Custody Plan?

Each Court has different requirements regarding litigating a custody case. The failure to file the necessary documents or to meet Court deadlines can result in a litigant losing their case. Therefore, obtaining an attorney to represent you is crucial if needed. However, most Courts’ custody cases contain the following general parts:

  • Custody cases initiate with the filing of a Petition;
  • The party that files the Petition is referred to as the “Petitioner.”;
  • The Petition is then served in person by the other party, the “Respondent.”;
  • The Respondent has 30 days to file an Answer to the Petition;
  • If the Respondent does not Answer in 30 days, then the court may grant the Petitioner their requests without the
  • Respondent being permitted to present evidence; and
  • After the Petition and the Answer are filed, the parties may schedule hearings for temporary custody and child support orders to have a plan in place while the case is still active.

While the case is ongoing, the court may require the parties to file other forms, such as an Income and Expense Statement, a Property and Debt Statement, and a Child Support Calculation Worksheet. The court may also have the parties attend a parental education course.

What Does the Missouri Court Examine When Deciding Child Custody?

The Missouri Legal Services states that according to Missouri law, judges must grant custody regarding the “best interest of the child.” To decide what is best for a child, the court will consider the following:

  • The wishes of the children’s parents;
  • The needs of the child for frequent contact with both parents;
  • The child’s relationship with relatives and other third parties;
  • The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community;
  • The ability of the parents to care for the child;
  • Which parent is likely to allow the other parent to have meaningful contact with the child;
  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse;
  • The mental and physical health of the individuals involved;
  • Whether either parent plans to move; and
  • The wishes of the child, if the child is old enough to have their opinion weighed in the determination.

Furthermore, Courts cannot grant custody based on the race or sex of a parent or child. Courts cannot deny a parent custody or visitation due to the parents not being married. Lastly, Courts cannot deny custody or visitation due to physical disability, religious belief, or sexual orientation.

When Do I Need to Contact A Lawyer?

If you live in Missouri and need child custody services, do not hesitate to reach out to a Missouri child custody attorney to assist you with your case. Your attorney can provide you with the guidance needed for your particular issues.


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