When it comes to custody of your children, the stakes cannot possibly be higher. We’re here to help.
Contested child custody cases are some of the most contentious, complex cases that come before Missouri family courts. Judges are often presented with difficult choices about where a child should live or go to school and how major decisions will be made that will impact the quality of life and long-term development of that child. Issues concerning a parent’s mental health, substance abuse or history of domestic violence can also play a major role in the outcome of child custody cases.
Because the outcome of your child custody case is so important, it is vital to have an experienced attorney represent and assist you in making your case.
There are two types of custody in Missouri: Legal Custody and Physical Custody.
Legal custody refers to the rights of a legal custodian to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of a child. Examples of this may include the choice of school, religion, medical treatment or extracurricular activities for the child.
Physical custody refers to the amount of actual parenting time awarded between a child and a physical custodian.
Awards of Legal Custody and Physical Custody can either be “Joint” or “Sole.” An award of “Sole Legal” custody means that one custodian will have final say over all matters involving the health, education and welfare of the child. An award of “Joint Legal” custody means that the parties must share decision-making responsibility. An award of “Sole Physical” custody means that a child will reside almost exclusively with one custodian and have limited access to the other. An award of “Joint Physical” custody means that all custodians will have ample (though not necessarily equal) parenting time with a child.
Regardless of what the custody arrangements are for a child, the court must enter a parenting plan that clearly establishes the type of custody granted to each custodian and provides a detailed plan for how and when a child is to be exchanged. More specifically, this parenting plan must provide detailed information about:
- Parenting time for major holidays;
- Parenting time during the weekday/weekends and summer;
- Transportation arrangements;
- Restrictions or limitations on access between a party and the child;
- How decisions will be made regarding the health, education and welfare of the child; and
- Support arrangements for the child.
The decision about whether an award of Legal or Physical custody will be “Sole” or “Joint” depends on the facts and circumstances of each case. The courts are to base this determination on whatever outcome they determine will be in a child’s “best interests” and that makes it all the more important to have top-notch legal representation throughout this important process. Factors the court must consider include:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody 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 for the needs of the child;
- 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 the child’s home, school, and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;
- The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and
- The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian.
No two child custody cases are the same. Having an attorney who understands and will engage with the nuances of your case is critical to achieving the outcome you want for you and your children. We have the litigation experience and knowledge necessary to help bring your case to a successful resolution.