Child Custody Laws in Missouri Evolve with Changing Parenting Roles

The nuclear family of the fifties is no longer common in American households. Today, more women work outside the home than ever before, and more fathers take on active parenting roles than in previous generations.

This changing dynamic can lead to interesting divorce cases, and child custody laws have long struggled to keep pace with changes in society as a whole. Because of the evolving role of parents, fathers are now fighting for continued involvement in the lives of their children after a divorce. Child custody laws determine how parenting is split after the divorce with custody and visitation. Being aware of these child custody laws can help parents determine the balance that works best for their unique situation. Contact our divorce lawyers today to learn more about child custody laws in Missouri.

Missouri Child Custody Laws

Missouri child custody laws recognize two different forms of custody: Legal custody and physical custody.

  • Legal custody refers to the ability to make decisions that concern a child's upbringing. A parent with legal custody has the legal right to make decisions about healthcare, education, spiritual/religious education, and about the child's financial matters.
  • Physical custody refers to the ability to have the child in the parent's care. In child custody laws, this is often called “possession”, so physical custody is about which parent has “possession” of the child and during what times.

For both legal and physical custody, the court can choose whether to grant joint or sole custody. Because these two types of custody are different, each type of custody may be granted differently. For example, parents may have joint legal custody but one parent may have sole physical custody.

When joint legal custody is granted, both parents share in the decision-making process. Child custody laws provide that parents who share joint legal custody are expected to discuss education, healthcare, and other important issues before making a final decision. Sole legal custody provides this right exclusively to one parent.

Physical custody determinations may be either joint or sole physical custody. Child custody laws provide that joint physical custody allows each parent a “significant, but not necessarily equal” period of time with the child. The goal of this arrangement is to provide the child with “frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents.” Sole custody grants this form of contact to only one parent.

Child Custody Laws and Determinations

Missouri courts consider the best interests of the child when making child custody determinations. The court can review a wide range of factors when applying this standard, including:

  • The wishes of the parents
  • The needs of the child
  • The current relationship of the child with parents and siblings
  • The mental and physical health of all parties involved
  • The wishes of the child

Parents that wish to receive custody rights need to present facts that show the court that the parent can meet the standards required by child custody laws in Missouri.

In addition to meeting these standards, parents also may need to stay up-to-date on family law matters, since the definitions of legal terms used in family law proceedings change frequently. As a result, it is wise to contact a divorce lawyer experienced in Missouri child custody laws and visitation to discuss your situation and help protect your legal rights.