New Missouri custody law seeks to maximize time with each parent, takes effect August 28

Governor Jay Nixon signed House bill 1550 into law on July 1, 2016, which takes effect August 28, 2016. This law has been dubbed as an equal custody law, or 50/50 custody law, but that is not an entirely accurate description. Rather than specifically stating that custody should be equal, the bill’s wording is to “maximize” a child’s time with each parent to the “highest degree possible”, along with more stringent enforcement procedures and remedies. The bill also bans "standard visitation" parenting plans. The changes made by the new law are as follows:

  1. Within 120 days of August 28, 2016, Parenting plan guidelines shall be made available on the office of the state courts administrators website.
  2. When the parties have not reached an agreement on all issues relating to custody, the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law, including, but not limited to the 8 statutory factors in the current version of the statute.
  3. The Court shall not presume that a parent, solely because of his or her sex, is more qualified than the other parent to act as a joint or sole legal or physical custodian of the child.
  4. Every custody order entered after August 28, 2016, must state the following: “In the event of noncompliance with this order, the aggrieved party may file a verified motion for contempt. If custody, visitation, or third-party custody is denied or interfered with by a parent or third party without good cause, the aggrieved person may file a family access motion with the court stating the specific facts that constitute a violation of the custody provisions of the judgment of dissolution, legal separation, or judgment of paternity. The circuit clerk will provide the aggrieved party with an explanation of the procedures for filing a family access motion and a simple form for use in filing the family access motion. A family access motion does not require the assistance of legal counsel to prepare and file."
  5. No court shall adopt any local rule, form, or practice requiring a standardized or default parenting plan for interim, temporary, or permanent orders or judgments. Notwithstanding any other provision to the contrary, a court may enter an interim order in a proceeding under this chapter, provided that the interim order shall not contain any provisions about child custody or a parenting schedule or plan without first providing the parties with notice and a hearing, unless the parties otherwise agree.
  6. The court shall consider, in a proceeding to enforce or modify a permanent custody or visitation order or judgment, a party's violation, without good cause, of a provision of the parenting plan, for the purpose of determining that party's ability and willingness to allow the child frequent and meaningful contact with the other party.
  7. The state courts administrator shall create a handbook or be responsible for the approval of a handbook outlining the following: Guide lines as to what is included in a parenting plan in order to maximize to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent; and this handbook shall be readily available online and shall be served along with the Petition and summons.