In a contested divorce or paternity proceeding, child custody and support are often focal issues. What does “custody” mean? As used in Missouri law, custody means joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole physical custody, or any combination thereof.
- “Joint legal custody” means that the parents share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child, and, unless allocated, apportioned, or decreed, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority.
- “Joint physical custody” means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents.
- “Third-party custody” means a third party designated as a legal and physical custodian (e.g. a grandparent).
The court determines custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court considers all relevant factors including:
- 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 as defined in section 455.010 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. The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.
In any court proceedings relating to custody of a child, the court shall not award custody or unsupervised visitation of a child to a parent if such parent or any person residing with such parent has been found guilty of, or pled guilty to, any of the offenses included in RSMo. 452.375.3(1). The court may not award custody or unsupervised visitation of a child to a parent if such parent or any person residing with such parent has been found guilty of, or pled guilty to, any of the offenses referenced in RSMo. 452.375.3(2).
It is the public policy of this state that frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage is in the best interest of the child, except for cases where the court specifically finds that such contact is not in the best interest of the child, and that it is the public policy of this state to encourage parents to participate in decisions affecting the health, education and welfare of their children, and to resolve disputes involving their children amicably through alternative dispute resolution.
Prior to awarding the appropriate custody arrangement in the best interest of the child, the court shall consider each of the following as follows:
- Joint physical and joint legal custody to both parents, which shall not be denied solely for the reason that one parent opposes a joint physical and joint legal custody award. The residence of one of the parents shall be designated as the address of the child for mailing and educational purposes;
- Joint physical custody with one party granted sole legal custody. The residence of one of the parents shall be designated as the address of the child for mailing and educational purposes;
- Joint legal custody with one party granted sole physical custody;
- Sole custody to either parent; or
- Third-party custody or visitation (e.g. a grandparent).
Upon a finding by the court that either parent has refused to exchange information with the other parent, which shall include but not be limited to information concerning the health, education and welfare of the child, the court shall order the parent to comply immediately and to pay the prevailing party a sum equal to the prevailing party’s cost associated with obtaining the requested information, which shall include but not be limited to reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs.
As between the parents of a child, no preference may be given to either parent in the awarding of custody because of that parent’s age, sex, or financial status, nor because of the age or sex of the child.
Any judgment providing for custody shall include a specific written parenting plan setting forth the terms of such parenting plan arrangements specified in subsection 7 of section 452.310. Such plan may be a parenting plan submitted by the parties pursuant to section 452.310 or, in the absence thereof, a plan determined by the court, but in all cases, the custody plan approved and ordered by the court shall be in the court’s discretion and shall be in the best interest of the child.
Unless a parent has been denied custody rights pursuant to this section or visitation rights under section 452.400, both parents shall have access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, dental, and school records. Unless a parent has been denied custody rights pursuant to this section or visitation rights under section 452.400, any judgment of dissolution or other applicable court order shall specifically allow both parents access to such records and reports.
An award of joint custody does not preclude an award of child support. The court shall consider the factors contained in section 452.340 (factors 1-8 discussed above) and applicable supreme court rules in determining an amount reasonable or necessary for the support of the child.
If the court finds that domestic violence or abuse, as defined in section 455.010 has occurred, the court shall make specific findings of fact to show that the custody or visitation arrangement ordered by the court best protects the child and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence, as defined in section 455.010, and any other children for whom such parent has custodial or visitation rights from any further harm.
If you have additional questions about child custody, call or come visit the family law attorneys at the Paul Law Firm. Consultations are always free!