Missouri's Rebuttable Presumption for Equal Parenting Time

Senate Bill 35 (2023)

Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), enacted in August 2023, significantly impacted child custody arrangements in Missouri. The law introduced a rebuttable presumption in favor of equal or approximately equal parenting time for both parents.

Prior to SB 35, the court considered various factors, but no specific presumption existed. Now, there's a starting point that assumes equal or close-to-equal parenting time is generally in the child's best interest. This presumption can be challenged (rebutted) with evidence demonstrating why such an arrangement wouldn't be suitable.

Benefits for Children & Parents

The purpose of this law is to promote shared parenting, which can benefit both children and parents. Studies have shown that children benefit from having a strong relationship with both parents, even after divorce or separation. Also, equal parenting time can help reduce conflict between parents and allow them to work together in co-parenting their children.

Rebutting the Presumption

The burden of proof falls on the party opposing equal parenting time. They must present a preponderance of evidence, meaning, more likely than not, that such an arrangement wouldn't be in the child's best interest. If both parties agree to a different custodial arrangement or evidence of abuse is clear, the opposing party will have an easier time overcoming the presumption.

What Evidence Can Be Used in Rebuttal?

As we mentioned previously, the presumption that equal parenting time is in the child’s best interest can be challenged with evidence demonstrating why such an arrangement wouldn't be in the child's best interest. Some key types of evidence that can be used to rebut the presumption:

  • Evidence of unsafe circumstances:
    • Documented instances of domestic violence or child abuse perpetrated by one parent.
    • Evidence of a parent's substance abuse or mental health issues that could impact a child safety or well-being.
    • Proof of a parent's neglectful behavior towards the child.
  • Evidence of logistical challenges:
    • Significant geographical distance between parents' residences that would disrupt the child's routine or schooling.
    • Work schedules that demonstrably conflict with equal parenting time, particularly for shift workers or those with frequent travel.
  • Evidence surrounding the child’s unique needs:
    • Expert testimony from child psychologists or therapists regarding the child's emotional or developmental needs might be better served by a different arrangement.
    • Documentation of the child's established routines and social support network in one parent's primary residence.

It is important to remember that this list is not exhaustive. The specific evidence used will vary depending on each case's unique circumstances.

Other Alterations Concerning Custody in Bill

The bill also included the following changes:

  • The bill changes how a child’s input will be considered. Prior to the bill, the court could consider the child’s wish by examining written findings. Now, the court must consider the child’s custody preferences with “unobstructed input, free of coercion and manipulation.”
  • The bill includes provisions changing the rules concerning license suspensions for individuals who fail to comply with child support orders. Before ordering a license suspension, the court will need to consider the party’s ability to pay the support, need for transportation, and employment when license suspension is being considered.

Knowledgeable Custody Attorneys

Kallen Law Firm, LLC has spent the past four decades helping families throughout St. Louis County. If you are involved in a custody case, you can trust our attorneys with your case as we are knowledgeable about how to approach these cases. Whether you need help with an initial filing or modification case, we can counsel you in creating a parenting plan and custody arrangement that works for the whole family.

Reach out to us online or via phone at (314) 441-7793 to get started on your case today.