Child Custody & Visitation Laws for Missouri

By Valerie Stevens

Missouri law favors joint custody of children when parents separate, so that children have "frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents." State law encourages parents to cooperate with each other in raising their children and requires divorcing parents to create a parenting plan as a part of their divorce. If the court determines the best interests of the children are not served by being with the parents, third party custody can be ordered, which might mean, for example, placing the children with grandparents.

Missouri law favors joint custody of children when parents separate, so that children have "frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents." State law encourages parents to cooperate with each other in raising their children and requires divorcing parents to create a parenting plan as a part of their divorce. If the court determines the best interests of the children are not served by being with the parents, third party custody can be ordered, which might mean, for example, placing the children with grandparents.

Factors

Missouri courts base child custody decisions on what is in the best interests of the children by weighing all relevant factors. The court will consider the parents’ wishes as outlined in their parenting plan; their willingness and ability to take care of the children; interactions among the parents, children and any other household members; and which parent is most likely to foster an ongoing relationship between the children and the other parent. Other considerations include the children’s adjustment to home, community and school; the mental and physical health of all parties, a parent’s intention to relocate; and the wishes of the children.

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Physical

Joint physical custody in Missouri means that children spend substantial, though not always equal, amounts of time with each parent. Parents can arrange joint physical custody in many different ways, depending on what works for their family. A typical schedule would include alternate weekends for one parent, along with one night a week and alternate holidays. The alternative in Missouri is sole physical custody, which means one parent has full-time physical possession of the children and the other parent might not have visitation rights. Sole physical custody is awarded only when spending time with the noncustodial parent represents a danger to the child.

Legal

Legal custody involves decision-making authority and responsibility for the children, regarding their health, education and welfare. Parents who share legal custody have an equal voice in making decisions about the lives of the children. Sole legal custody can be granted to one parent, but Missouri law favors joint legal custody. Regardless of the legal custody arrangements, parents in Missouri usually have equal access to medical, dental and school records. If one parent deprives the other of this information, the court may impose a fine on the parent.

Parenting Plan

Since 1998, the Missouri General Assembly has mandated that divorcing parents with children under the age of 18 file a parenting plan. Parents are encouraged to work together to form a parenting plan. However, if they cannot agree, each must submit a plan. The court formulates a plan based on their submissions and the parents must follow the court-ordered plan. The parenting plan describes how the parents will care for the children in the areas of custody and visitation, decision-making, dispute resolution and expenses. The parenting plan must provide a detailed custody schedule and information on how the parents will share legal custody. Parents must plan how they will resolve disputes that arise between them in connection with their children. Child support payments must be established and specifically stated in the plan.

Support

Child support figures are determined by applying a formula to several financial factors. These include the children’s and parents’ needs and resources, children’s physical and emotional condition and educational needs, standard of living prior to divorce and work related day care expenses. Usually a parent who has physical custody will receive child support from the noncustodial parent. Child support can be ordered when parents have a fifty-fifty custodial arrangement. While the amount of child support paid depends in part on the custody and visitation arrangement, the two issues are separate and the custodial parent cannot withhold visitation if the noncustodial parent refuses to pay child support or falls behind. (2, 6)

Visitation

Missouri law is structured to maintain the child-parent bond after divorce, and the court favors a plan in which the child spends significant time with both parents. Some attorneys and parents refer to this as "parenting time" rather than "visitation." In a case where one parent is granted sole custody, the other parent is usually awarded visitation. In cases where a parent or someone living with a parent has committed certain felonies, such as child sexual abuse, the court can withhold visitation or order supervised visitation. Supervised visitation means a court-approved adult remains in the presence of the children and parent during the visitation period. Detailed visitation schedules, including locations for child exchanges and requirements regarding parental behavior, are included in the parenting plan. Grandparents have the legal right to seek visitation in Missouri, although the court awards grandparent visitation only in limited circumstances.

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Child Visitation Laws in Kentucky

References

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Divorce in Missouri With Children

If spouses have minor children and wish to divorce, they will need to address custody and child support issues before the divorce is finalized. In Missouri, if spouses have an amicable relationship, they may be able to resolve these issues without court interference. However, if agreements cannot be reached, a judge will need to make any custody and support determinations according to Missouri law.

What Is the Difference Between Custodial Parent and Sole Legal Custody of a Child?

Custody is a serious decision that comes into play when parents are no longer married to each other. Unless both parents come to a mutual agreement, a court will dictate which parent the child will live with, who will be responsible for critical decisions relating to the child and whether both parents will share legal or physical custody. Custody arrangements can be modified, and are typically used until the child reaches adulthood -- which is age 18, in most states. Custody determinations are made in accordance with the best interests of the child. Custody is also a concept of state law, and the concept varies by state; its terminology, however, is typically universally accepted. For example, legal custody is not defined in Hawaii state law, but attorneys use the term, because its meaning is universally understood. There are four major custody arrangements, with the differences being which parent is able to make important decisions for the child and where the child will live.

Divorce & Custody Rights

Custody determinations are often a highly contentious and emotional component of the divorce process, so it is important to know your rights as a parent before going into settlement negotiations or the courtroom. As a general rule, both parents have rights to custody of the children after a divorce. How custody is divided may be up to the parents, but if they can't decide, the court will make a determination based on the best interests of the child.

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