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Missouri Child Custody: Is it a “Mother State” or a “Father State”?

Posted by Joshua Wilson | May 19, 2021 | 2 Comments

Missouri Child Custody:

Is it a “Mother State” or a “Father State”?

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Short Answer:


The state of Missouri is neither a "Mother State", or "Father State".

A frequent question we get at The Joshua Wilson Law Firm from spouses with children, that are going through the divorce process, and custody process is, "Will me being the father/mother, effect my chances at having custody of my child or children?"

The state of Missouri in family law, divorce law, and custody law, aims to provide each parent a completely unbiased chance when the court is deciding who obtains the custody rights of the child/children from a dissolved marriage.

The state of Missouri absolutely does not give preferential treatment to mothers. To some this might seem like a silly question to ask, however it really is not.

It is a completely valid question. There are many states across the nation that do give mothers favorable treatment during custody agreements. Although, there really isn't any law explicitly stating that fact, based on statistics, and court set precedents in other states, like Texas for example, there are absolutely are states that favor mothers when custodial rights are being awarded. 

However, the state of Missouri is not one of those states. This is due to the way Missouri statutes regarding custody are written, the law does not allow for that sort of biased judgement to be carried out.

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What Are Courts/Judges Looking For When They Decide Which Parent is Given Custody Rights?

All judges in custody matters must make their decisions on which parent is given custody rights based on their analysis of what is in the best interest of the child/children, in the present and foreseeable future.

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The “best interests of the child” phrasing is matter of fact, legitimate Missouri legal language.

In chapter 452, section 375, of the Missouri Revisor of Statutes regarding Domestic Relations, the language within; makes it so it is compulsory for the judge and courts tasked with awarding custody rights to an adult/parent, to anchor their ultimate ruling on the foundational principle of the child/children's mandatory needs for the best quality of life possible for them (the child/children), opposed to the adult's or the parent's needs who are seeking to gain custody rights.

Missouri law explicitly mandates judges and courts within the state to award custodial rights to the adult or parent in this pursuit, who are able to meet the child/children's needs in the most satisfactory manner possible.

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How Does the State of Missouri Define a Parent as Being "Unfit"?

No one with a child or children wants to be labeled as an unfit person to carry out their duties as a parent.

The Missouri legal definition of an unfit parent is essentially the same as the federal legal definition of an unfit parent, which is, "A parent may be deemed unfit if they have been abusive, neglecting, or failed to provide proper care for the child. A parent with a mental disturbance or addiction to drugs or alcohol may also be found to be an unfit parent." 

In the most simple of terms, the qualities of an unfit parent are: a parent or adult who has exhibited through their consistent behaviors is unequivocally incapable of providing and giving the essential care, support, and guidance to the child/children involved in the custodial award process.

Obviously, if there is significant and solid evidence of a parent being abusive, neglectful, or in violation of controlled substance laws, or has substance abuse issues that are still present or unresolved, that parent will more than likely be deemed to be unfit as a parent, and not be granted custodial rights over the child/children.

What Does the State of Missouri Consider to be an Unfit Home/Unsafe Environment for Children?

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There are a multitude of variables that can allow the state of Missouri to deem a house unfit for children or define the house as an unsafe environment for children.

These all will hurt, and most likely negate any chances of having custodial rights being given to you if your living situation can be described, or has any of the qualities of these specific examples listed below.

Qualities Attributed to an Unfit Home or an Unsafe Environment:

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1. The unwillingness to care for your child’s basic needs. Examples being, but not limited to:

    a. Providing adequate food and nutrition.

    b. Consistent safe shelter, (safe shelter cannot be defined as living in a car, or a residence where there is exposure to poisonous/hazardous materials, exposure to dangerous objects such as weapons or illicit substances, exposure to extreme temperatures, and especially exposure to convicted sex offenders)

    c. Access to clean water to maintain healthy hygiene.  

2. A parent exposing their child/children to any sort of pornographic material. (This does include an adult engaging in any sexual activities while your child/children are present.)

3. A parent knowingly allowing their child/children to be harmed. Harm can include; physical, emotional, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect.

4. A parent being unwilling or incapable of seeking medical treatment for their child/children that is essential to the child's ability to function normally, or to recover from an illness/injury. (A rare exception in this scenario in the state of Missouri, is when a family's religious belief prohibits seeking a medical treatment).

5. A parent not allowing their child/children to receive the state deemed proper education for their age. This would be a parent not allowing the child to attend school, the parent not seeking help if the child is refusing to go to school, or a parent not fulfilling their responsibilities they agreed to, when they chose to educate their child/children from home.

6.  The parent abandoning a child/children, or leaving them alone for inappropriate amounts of time. Essentially forcing the child or children to fend for themselves. This falls under the category of neglect.

7.  A parent not making a diligent and efficient effort to locate their child/children in the event they are to go missing.

How Should I Prove I Am the Better Parent to the Judge?

To prove to a judge you are the better suited parent to be awarded custodial rights you should be 100% focused on the physical/mental well-being of your child/children.

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Examples of this fall under making sure your child/children have a healthy and well rounded routine set up.

This involves implementing a routine eating schedule, as well as providing proper nutrition. Also a sleep schedule that allows the child to feel well rested and mentally ready for their days. Along with having an appropriate amount of after-school activities or supplemental educational activities so your child stays mentally stimulated and not bored, but at the same time not over-pressured or over worked.

Another aspect that plays into how a judge views you as a parent is how well you are following the visitation schedule with the other parent. This means making sure the child/children are allowed to see the other parent when it is appropriate, and agreed upon.

What Should I Not Do During the Judge/Court's Process of Deciding Who Should Be Awarded Custody?

There are a vast array of things to avoid at all costs during your custody agreement period.

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This should go without saying, but alas I feel it must be stated.

At all costs both spouses should not engage in any sort of physical confrontation/altercations with the other adult party, and/or especially the child/children you are attempting to gain custody rights over.

Right along with avoiding any sort of physical confrontations during this process, and I must say you really should always be avoiding physical confrontations/altercations from a rational/legal perspective.

Anyways, moving on, you also should be actively avoiding any sort of verbally aggressive confrontations/ altercations with the other adult party contending for custody rights, and/or again, especially the child/children in the situation.

Next one is perhaps not as obvious as the first two. You should absolutely not be introducing your child/children to new romantic partners during a custody proceeding.

It simply isn't a good look to a judge, and is a high risk for creating more volatile emotions in your ex-partner, or putting your child/children in an uncomfortable position they are more than likely not ready for.

Next is a challenging one, because you probably have a lot of emotions during this process, and likely some negative emotions towards your ex-partner. It is essential you do not speak ill of your ex to anyone during this time, except maybe a licensed therapist, with a confidentiality agreement. Ask your legal representation before pursuing that option. However, do not go on the internet and post publicly about your negative feelings towards your ex, do not speak ill of them to friends, especially mutual friends, and most importantly not to your child/children. It puts them in a very awkward position and creates a very unhealthy dynamic. 

We will conclude this section with a more obvious thing to avoid during custody battles.

Please do not neglect to pay child support during this time, or any time for that matter.

Your children need the financial support, and it makes you appear to be a mature responsible adult, when you follow through on legal agreements of the financial nature.

This also includes you as a parent, not neglecting any parental responsibilities you and your ex-partner agreed on.

If you said you would take the kids to a practice, take the kids to the practice. If you said you pick them up for school, pick them up from school.

Again, just following through on your word, should always be something you strive to do, but it is of the utmost importance during this time.

How Can a Mother/Father Increase Their Chances of Being Awarded Custody of Their Child/Children?

Negotiation is the best approach in matters regarding custody of children for multiple reasons.

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The mother and father, respectively should do everything in their power to avoid going to court in pursuit of a "custody battle".

In the state of Missouri it is strongly advised for parents who are separating/divorcing to have a calm discussion, where both parties, (mother/father, or adults concerned with custody matters that have potential custodial rights over the child/children), to come together, and sit down, either privately, with legal counsel, or a with mediator if needed, and make an attempt on both parties sides to fairly negotiate a parenting agreement or parenting plan.

The state of Missouri does require this. Ideally the parents will be able to reach an amicable parenting plan agreement, and submit it to the judge presiding over the case, and the court will approve it.

However, if both parties are unable to come to an amicable agreement regarding the parenting plan, or if the judge has reason to believe that the parenting plan proposed, (even if agreed on by both parties), is in fact NOT in the best interest of the child, then unfortunately the term custody battle comes into play.

At this point the custodial rights/parenting plan will be decided in a court room setting, where both parties will have a chance to make their case through evidence or testimonies, along with legal representation.

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This process will unavoidably involve having a judge/court make an official and legally binding ruling.

This undertaking by nature, is an inherently grueling, pricey, and long one between the adults pursuing custodial rights, and is hard on the child/children involved as well.

Making things harder on the child/children is something Missouri law tries to avoid at all costs, because Missouri law is focused on the best interest of the child/children. Custody battles are almost always stressful, dramatic filled events, that are not ideal to put a child through.

Although, it is understood, sometimes there is no other option but to take custodial issues over children to the courtroom. Our team of attorneys at the Joshua Wilson Law Firm is prepared for these instances will do everything in our power to make this process as painless and stress-free for all parties involved. We promise to fight passionately, pragmatically, and diligently for the best interest of your child/children and your family.

How often do fathers win custody?

Across the United States, on average 35% of fathers are awarded custody rights. In Missouri on average fathers are awarded custody rights 50% of the time.

In the state of Missouri, fathers really do have an equal chance of getting custody.


How Far Can a Parent Move if there is a Joint Custody agreement According to Missouri Law?

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The state of Missouri is incredibly strict about relocation of children, in comparison to other states.

Most states in the U.S. allow a specific allowance, usually based on miles, on how far a parental custodian is legally allowed to move your child/children away.

In Missouri that is not the case whatsoever.

The parental custodian, with custodial rights, is legally not allowed to relocate the child/children anywhere. Even a house down the street, from the previous residence would violate Missouri law. For a parent with custody rights to relocate they must obtain legal permission before doing so. If legal permission is not granted then the parent and child/children may not relocate.

That Was A Lot of Information To Take In:

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Custody issues are very complex, but in the state of Missouri parents are at an advantage, as well as their children because the court truly does take an unbiased look at each case and determine who gains custody based on who can be the better provider for the children in a full time sense. 

These issues are never simple, or clear cut. At The Joshua Wilson Law Firm, we want to help you represent yourself in the best possible way, so your family can be taken care of in the best way possible. 

Contact our firm today, and our friendly staff will answer any questions you may have, and schedule you a consult with one of our highly experienced, educated, and skilled attorneys, ready to passionately take on your case from our signature personalized approach. 

About the Author

Joshua Wilson

Divorce is complex and highly emotional. Everything is going to change, including your most important personal relationships, your finances, your daily routine, and -- of course -- your home life. This can be a stressful time, and the parties involved often are not thinking clearly. You need some...


Shannon Gonzalez Reply

Posted May 24, 2022 at 02:55:06

Please help me. My Son was not returned to me on Sunday after his fathers visitation. I need to know what I can do to get my son back. I have full custody of my son and he gets visitation every other weekend

Dena wright Reply

Posted Nov 04, 2022 at 16:20:11

I don’t know how to explain this I’m broke I want my child back everything going on is a lie and the state does not believe me so I need help

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