Navigating divorce or separation when you have children can be complex and emotionally straining. It can be helpful to discuss custody arrangements with a child custody attorney as you negotiate these decisions.

Types of Child Custody

Child custody in Missouri includes both legal and physical custody. Both of these custody types can be joint or sole, depending on the unique circumstances and needs of a family.

  • Physical custody refers to where a child lives primarily.
  • Legal custody refers to the ability of parents to make important decisions for their child, including where a child receives healthcare, where a child will go to school, and what a child’s religious upbringing will be.

When determining these types of custody, either in court or in mediation, the child’s interests are the primary goal. The capabilities of each parent are important for determining what custody arrangement is ideal for their child.

  1. Sole physical custody occurs when a child lives primarily with one parent, and the other parent typically has generous visitation. In some cases, the court will assign supervised or no visitation for a parent, but usually only in situations when visitation with a parent would place a child in danger.
  2. Joint physical custody occurs when a child spends equal time with both parents or as close to a 50-50 split as possible. It is often not practically possible for it to be perfectly equal, but each parent spends significant and meaningful time with both parents.
  3. Sole legal custody occurs when only one parent is given the right to make important decisions for their child. This parent is often required to inform the other parent of these decisions but does not have to get the other parent’s permission. This form of custody is rare and used only when a parent is proven to be unfit or otherwise incapable of making important decisions for their child.
  4. Joint legal custody occurs when both parents have a say over important decisions in their child’s life. In this case, a parenting plan must lay out how parents make these decisions together.

Child Custody Determinations in Court

If parents are able to work together on a parenting plan and determine both types of custody, this is preferred. This shows the court that parents are willing to compromise to meet their child’s interests, and it also provides parents with more control over the outcome of the custody arrangement. Once an agreement has been reached, the parenting plan is submitted to the court. If approved, this becomes a court order, and it is enforceable.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible for parents to work together to create a plan. Relationships can be contentious or genuinely unsafe for parents or children. When the court determines child custody in Springfield, there are several factors that it reviews.

The current legal presumption in Missouri is that joint custody is in the child’s interests unless there is a preponderance of evidence that shows otherwise. The court will look at several factors to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s interests, including:

  1. The ability of each parent to care for their child’s basic needs, such as a healthy and safe environment, clothing, and food
  2. Each parent’s willingness to provide for these basic needs
  3. The child’s needs for a meaningful relationship with each parent
  4. The child’s relationship with their siblings and other parties, and their ties to their school and surrounding community
  5. The likelihood of either parent to encourage and allow their child to develop meaningful relationships with the other parent
  6. If either parent intends to relocate the child’s main residence
  7. The specific needs of the child and their personal preferences unobstructed by parental input
  8. Each parent’s wishes
  9. The age, mental health, and physical health of both parents and the child
  10. Whether either parent is unfit

The court will consider all these factors.


Q: What Is the New Child Custody Law in Missouri?

A: Before 2023, Missouri family courts have preferred assigning joint custody in divorce and separation cases. As of 2023, this preference for joint custody is a legal assumption. This is because it is assumed to be in the child’s interests to spend meaningful and frequent time with each parent. To overturn this assumption, a parent or other party would have to show proof that a parent is unfit to provide for a child’s basic needs and safety.

Q: What Is the Most Common Custody Agreement?

A: In Missouri, there is a legal preference for joint legal and physical custody. In the country, this is a common custody arrangement.

However, for some parents, joint physical custody is not practical due to schedules or distance. In that case, a common custody arrangement is joint legal custody, meaning both parents have legal parental rights to make decisions for their child and sole physical custody. One parent would have physical custody, while the other would likely have generous visitation rights. Family courts typically agree that time with both parents is in a child’s interests unless there are unique circumstances.

Q: How Hard Is It to Get Full Custody in Missouri?

A: The Missouri court assumes that joint custody is in the child’s interests unless proven otherwise. To obtain sole legal and physical custody, a parent would have to prove that the other parent is unfit. An unfit parent is a term that describes a parent who actively endangers their child or fails to care for their basic needs.

A parent may be considered unfit due to domestic violence or child abuse, severe and untreated mental health issues, continuous and untreated substance abuse, or providing an unsafe living environment for a child.

Q: What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases in Missouri?

A: The court assumes that joint custody is in the child’s interests and then looks at other factors to determine if that should be altered. In order to determine what a child’s interests are in a family’s unique circumstances, the judge will review several factors, including:

  • The ability of each parent to care for the child’s needs
  • The child’s connections to their school and community
  • The child’s relationships with each parent and their siblings
  • The wishes of each parent and the child
  • The child’s age and health

Contact Stange Law Firm

In many cases, it is beneficial for the entire family to create a parenting plan outside of court. For legal support, contact Stange Law Firm.