How Do Courts Decide the “Best Interests of the Child” in Custody Cases?

As in so many other states, Missouri courts have adopted the overriding guideline of “the best interests of the child” when deciding child custody cases. Currently under Section 452.375(4) of the Missouri Statutes, the law states that courts must consider the needs of the child for “a frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationships with both parents” in custody cases. This is as specific as the best interests of the child guideline gets which often opens the question to how frequent is “frequent,” or what exactly is “meaningful?” Because no further definitions of these words are outlined in the law, family court judges have wide discretion in applying the law to the cases they decide. This is further accomplished through an examination of a number of other factors that a judge can review when making a ruling.

Are you involved in a St. Louis divorce or other family law matter? Contact Kallen Law Firm, LLC at (314) 441-7793 to arrange for a free, initial consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys.

What Factors Does a Judge Look At When Deciding a Child’s Best Interests?

Since family court judges have the responsibility of deciding custody arrangements when parents cannot agree on the matter, they must come up with a resolution based on family law and previous rulings as decided by courts.

Under the above referenced Missouri law, the factors a judge can take into consideration to determine the best interests of the child are as follows:

  • A review of the wishes of both parents and each party’s proposed parenting plan
  • The willingness of the parents to “actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child”
  • The nature of the relationship/interaction the child has with the parents, siblings, and any other party who may play a significant role in the child’s life
  • Which parent is more likely to foster a continuing, frequent, and meaningful relationship with the other parent
  • How the child’s life at home, school, and in the community will be affected
  • How the mental and physical health of all parties relates to the matter
  • Whether a history of domestic violence has occurred on the part of any parent
  • Whether either parent intends to relocate the child
  • What the child’s wishes are if mature enough to have a rational opinion
  • Whether a parent has been convicted of certain crimes against the child (these crimes are specified under the law and too numerous to list)

Other factors that a judge may look at to determine what is in the child’s best interests include whether the child has any special needs and how these needs would be cared for by either parent, the age and sex of the child, whether a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, and how custody would affect the child’s life with other children in the family. In this matter, a family law judge will review all “relevant” factors as a whole to determine what would be in the child’s best interests in terms of safety, welfare, happiness, development, and ability to thrive.

Need Legal Advocacy for Your Custody or Other Family Law Matter?

It’s obvious from the above that child custody matters can be complicated affairs; this is especially true when you and the other parent don’t agree on how it should be structured. In such cases, it is vital that you have the representation of an experienced family law attorney. At Kallen Law Firm, LLC, our talented team of skilled litigators has been representing individuals in and around St. Louis for decades. We are here to help you navigate this difficult and challenging legal process with a full aim on helping you to achieve the best possible outcome. Our services and approach are customized to your case, your needs, and your preferences as to how to resolve the unique particulars of your situation.

Want to talk to a St. Louis attorney about your family law matter in a free, confidential consultation? Call Kallen Law Firm, LLC at (314) 441-7793 today.