Child custody plans for parents in Missouri can be confusing. Parents may have to decide between joint custody and sole custody, child visitation schedules, and who has legal or physical custody of the child. When a child custody plan is entered by the court, it can be difficult to modify. It is important that the child custody plan represents your wishes as a parent. Before making any custody agreement with the other parent, make sure you talk to your Missouri child custody lawyer about your rights and options. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm.
Physical Custody in Missouri
Physical custody can be designated as joint physical custody or sole physical custody. Physical custody generally refers to which parent the child lives with. If the child lives with or spends significant time with both parents, the parents may be considered to be in joint physical custody. If the child lives with one parent for the majority of the time, and maybe only visits the other parent occasionally or does not spend a lot of time at the other parent's home, the child would generally be considered to be in the sole physical custody of the custodial parent.
As with legal custody, when determining who gets physical custody of a child, the court considers what is in the child's best interests. Factors the court uses in child custody decisions include:
- Parent's wishes and a drafted parenting plan submitted by the parents;
- The child's wishes;
- The child's need for continuing and meaningful contact with both parents;
- Parent's willingness to encourage the child to maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent;
- 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 adjustment to home, school, and the community;
- The physical and mental health of both parents; and
- Any history of abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional) or neglect.
Sole Physical Custody by One Parent
Sole physical custody means the child lives with and spends the majority of time with the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights that allow that parent to spend time with his or her child. However, the non-custodial parent may only be given supervised visitation where the non-custodial parent has been found guilty of specific offenses to the child, such as neglect or abuse.
Joint or Shared Physical Custody
Under MO Rev. Stat. § 452.375(3), joint physical custody is: “an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents.”
Courts generally prefer giving parents joint custody of children, when possible and where it is in the best interests of the child. In a child custody dispute, the court will also initially try and get the parents to work out a joint custody plan together through mediation.
Changing Physical Custody Order
Generally, courts do not like to regularly change family court orders, including orders providing for the child's physical custody. A court may modify or change a custody order where a significant change in circumstances occurs that warrants a custody order change. A change in circumstances could include:
- A parent with a prior drug or alcohol problem has gone through recovery;
- The custodial parent or another person in the custodial parent's home is suspected of abusing or neglecting the child;
- One parent is moving out of the area, state, or country; or
- A custodial parent is no longer able to properly care for the child.
A court may first refer a petition to modify a custody order to mediation. Mediation allows the parents to come to a mutually acceptable compromise based on their own terms. If mediation is not successful, the court may hear from the parties and determine whether or not to modify an existing court order or leave it in place. If you have questions about changing a custody order, talk to your Missouri family lawyer.
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 law firm, Higher Level Legal, has years of experience in custody disputes, including successfully representing parents to get sole physical custody of their child. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9968 for a consultation.