Posted by Emily Fretwell |
Child custody is almost always the most important issue for couples seeking a divorce. With the assistance of their attorneys, parents present arguments to the court to determine who will be the custodial parent of the children after a divorce is finalized. In Missouri, child custody is regulated and governed by various child custody laws, but the determination usually comes down to a singular pivotal legal principle – the Best Interest of the Child.
Best Interest of the Child
The “best interest of the child” standard centers on the idea that children are best served by continuing, frequent, and meaningful contact with both parents. As with any legal concept, there are exceptions, such as if one parent can prove the other parent is “unfit” to retain custody of the children. Examples of characteristics that may deem a parent unfit include drug or alcohol abuse, physical or verbal abuse, or neglect. Under certain circumstances, a judge may determine that both parents are unfit to retain custody of their children, and will then award custody to a third party such as a close relative or the state. These determinations are largely governed by a “parenting plan” submitted to the judge for review and approval.
If both parties’ parenting plans differ substantially, the court will determine child custody by assessing several key factors. Courts rarely, if ever, consider a parent’s gender, age, or financial status when awarding child custody. While there is no set standard or formula to determine the best interest of the child, the following elements are often considered:
- The reasonableness of each parent’s desired arrangements;
- A parent’s ability and willingness to perform their parental functions;
- The child’s needs for a meaningful relationship with both parents;
- The child’s personal relationship with each parent;
- Adaptation to a new environment, school, or home;
- Any history of domestic violence;
- The physical and mental health of each parent;
- The parent likely to facilitate frequent and meaningful contact with the other positive influences; and
- Depending on the age of the child, his or her personal preference.
Types of Child Custody in Missouri
There are two broad categories of child custody in the state of Missouri – legal custody and physical custody. A parent with legal custody of the child has the authority to make decisions on behalf of the child, such as health care decisions, religious matters, and educational decisions. Physical custody on the other hand refers to the actual living arrangements and the weekly or monthly schedule regarding which parent is the primary caretaker of the child.
Legal and physical custody can be classified as either sole or joint. Sole physical custody means the child only resides with one parent, and may only be permitted to visit the other parent for short periods of time. Sole legal custody means only one parent is permitted to make formal decisions on behalf of the child. Joint physical custody means that the child lives with both parents at different times on a set schedule, and lastly, joint legal custody means that both parents are permitted to make certain decisions on the child’s behalf. Whenever possible, courts tend to shy away from awarding sole legal or sole physical custody as it directly conflicts with the “best interest of the child” philosophy.
Talk to a Jefferson City Divorce Attorney Today
Child custody is a highly sensitive matter. More so than any other divorce related issue, child custody will have the most impact on the future lives of your children. Hiring an experienced and knowledgeable Jefferson City Divorce Attorney is pivotal to ensuring your parental rights are protected. If you are going through divorce, expect to be going through a divorce in the near future, or have questions about your existing child custody situation, make sure you have the best Jefferson City Divorce Attorney in your corner and on your team.