Legal custody of parents allows them to make important decisions about the child's life and future. Even if the parents have joint physical custody, one parent could have sole legal custody or vice versa. Legal custody can be just as important as physical custody for parents and children. It is important for parents to consider legal custody when making a custody agreement with the other parent to make sure your child will be well-cared for. Before making child custody agreements, talk to your Missouri child custody lawyer about your rights and options. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm.
Legal Child Custody in Missouri
Legal custody can be designated as joint legal custody or sole legal custody. Legal custody generally refers to making decisions for the child. In joint legal custody, both parents can make decisions on the child's behalf. With one parent having sole legal custody, only that parent can make decisions for the child.
Decision-making for the child is not about what friends the child can spend time with, what the child eats for dinner, or picking out their clothes for school. Legal custody generally covers more important decisions like where the child goes to school, healthcare decisions for the child, or religious choices.
Court Deciding Legal Custody
Under MO Rev. Stat. § 452.375, when the parties have not reached an agreement on all issues related to custody, the court shall consider all relevant factors in determining custody, including the following::
- Each parent's wishes and a drafted parenting plan submitted by the parents;
- The child's wishes. There is no specific age in Missouri, the older the child the more weight the child's preference holds;
- The child's need for recurrent and meaningful contact with both parents, and each parent's willingness to be responsible for this need;
- Each parent's willingness to encourage the child to maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent;
- Each parent's intentions to relocate with a child;
- The child's relationship with his or her parents, siblings, and extended family members on both sides;
- The child's apparent adjustment to home, school, and the community the family currently resides;
- The physical and mental health of both parents involved in a case; and
- Any history of abuse (whether it is physical, verbal, or emotional) or neglect.
In determining the appropriate custody arrangement for a child, the court shall consider each of the following:
- Joint physical and joint legal custody to both parents (where the residence of one of the parents is designated as the address of the child for mailing and educational purposes);
- Joint physical custody with one party granted sole legal custody;
- Joint legal custody with one party granted sole physical custody;
- Sole custody to either parent; or
- Third-party custody or visitation.
Sole Legal Custody by One Parent
Sole legal custody means one parent is charged with making decisions on behalf of the child. This may include educational, medical, and religious decisions. Examples of legal custody decisions may include:
- The child will attend private school instead of public school;
- The child will be home-schooled;
- The child will be baptized under one parent's religion;
- The child will get braces to fix their teeth; or
- The child will go to a mental health counselor for weekly sessions.
Joint or Shared Legal Custody
Under MO Rev. Stat. § 452.375(2), joint legal custody means, “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..”
Legal Custody Disputes
Just because one parent has legal custody does not mean they can make any decision for the child. If the other parent disputes the parent's decision on certain issues or the parent without legal custody believes the child is suffering harm as a result of the parent's decisions, the parent can seek legal intervention. However, a court is not likely to override a parent's legal custody decisions unless there is a risk of harm to the child.
For example, a parent without legal custody may worry that their child is being harmed through the other parent's decisions to:
- Home-school the child if the teaching parent is not providing adequate educational instruction to the child;
- Seek alternative medical treatment that has not been shown to have medical value when the child is suffering a serious medical condition or disease; or
- The child is being brought up in a religion that is advocating shunning the other parent.
Talk to your Missouri family law attorney about issues with challenging legal custody or the other parent's decisions that may be harming your child or your parent-child relationship.
Talk to an Experienced Missouri Family Law Attorney
Child custody disputes are best handled with the advice of an experienced family law attorney. Cass County family Higher Level Legal Law Firm has years of experience in custody disputes, including successfully representing parents to get sole legal custody of their child. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.