Missouri law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child. In 2016, Missouri child custody law changed. The state now favors equal parenting time—and requires a detailed explanation if parenting is not equally shared.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

Under Missouri law, divorcing parents must have a parenting plan before their divorce will be approved. A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how they will share legal and physical custody of their children. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they must submit separate, proposed plans to the court. 

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

Missouri courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child.  These factors include:

  • Their willingness to actively parent the child,
  • The child’s health, welfare, and safety,
  • The child’s need for stability,
  • The emotional and developmental needs of the child,
  • The physical and mental health of the parent,
  • The history of contact between the parents and the child,
  • The importance of sibling and other familial relationships,
  • Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse, and
  • The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate), and
  • The parents’ wishes.

A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. Additionally, courts cannot base a custody decision solely on a history of homeschooling. In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the parenting plan and divorce order are signed, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved parenting plan and the court must approve any modification of the plan.  

Should I Contact a Missouri Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and require a detailed understanding of the law. If you have concerns about custody and parenting time, it is important that you speak with an experienced child custody lawyer. A lawyer will help advocate for you and your child and work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.