Missouri Court Holds Joint Custody Award Not Appropriate When Parties Cannot Effectively Co-Parent

Loving single mother hugging cute little daughter kissing kid sitting on sofa, concept for custody arrangement.

Child custody arrangement is often one of the most contentious issues in any divorce case. No matter how challenging it might be, it’s essential for parents to put aside their differences in order to co-parent effectively. Unwillingness to do so could be detrimental to the outcome of a custody matter. In fact, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District recently heard a case in which the court deemed that the parties would not be effectively able to co-parent. In this matter, the appellate court affirmed an order of sole custody to the father based on the finding that the mother’s extreme animosity toward him would make co-parenting difficult in the future.

What Types of Custody Arrangement Are Recognized in Missouri?

Whether you are going through a divorce or have separated from your partner, custody matters can be complex and emotionally overwhelming. Importantly, four types of custody are recognized in Missouri, including the following:

  • Physical — Physical custody refers to where a child will live.
  • Legal — Legal custody concerns the parent’s decision-making authority on behalf of the children.
  • Sole — In sole custody arrangements, only one parent has physical and legal custody of the children.
  • Joint — When custody is joint, both parents share access to the child and can make important decisions for them.

Custody arrangements can be tailored in accordance with the needs of a child. Parents are free to create a parenting plan outside the courtroom between themselves. However, in cases where parents cannot reach an agreement regarding custody, a judge will be required to determine the outcome of the issue based on the legal standard known as the “best interests of the child.”

What Justifies an Award of Sole Custody?

While joint custody is preferred by Missouri courts whenever possible, there may be situations in which sole custody is in the child’s best interests. Sole custody is usually awarded in cases where the welfare of the child is at risk or other special circumstances exist that have an impact on the best interests of the child. A guardian ad litem may be appointed to represent the child’s interests in custody cases involving abuse, addiction, or neglect.

Sole custody might also be in a child’s best interests in cases where the parents are incapable of working together to raise their children. In cases where the parties will not cooperate to make shared decisions, a court may decide that joint custody is not appropriate. Notably, when sole custody is awarded, parents aren’t required to co-parent or agree on all decisions that must be made regarding their child’s upbringing. The non-custodial parent may still have certain rights that are specified in the court’s order.

The Court’s Decision in Moore v. Moore

In a recent case brought for appellate review, Moore v. Moore, a mother challenged the circuit court’s holding granting the father an award of sole legal custody when both parties had proposed joint custody. Rather than disputing the findings of the court, the mother contended that the court did not “comply with the statutory preference for joint legal custody.” However, in its opinion, the court stated that the submission of a joint parenting plan is not dispositive as it must be approved by the court in its discretion and in the child’s best interests. The court specified that even when parties are “willing to propose a joint legal custody arrangement [it] does not – by itself – establish that the award of sole legal custody was against the weight of the evidence.”

The court held that even though there is a legislative preference for parents to have joint legal custody, the arrangement is not appropriate when parents cannot work together to make shared decisions about the welfare of their children. In its decision, the court found that the mother and father would not be able to effectively co-parent because they could not agree on significant matters when it came to raising their children.

Specifically, in awarding sole legal custody to the father, it considered the parents’ differences of opinion and inability to come to an agreement regarding the children’s schooling and medical care. The court also looked at factors such as the mother’s “unfounded” attempts to have the father terminated from his employment and arrested and the mother’s failure to communicate concerning the medical care the children received. In addition, the court weighed other evidence including the mother’s testimony stating she did not trust the father to act in the children’s best interests — and the fact that she brought them to the hospital following custody exchanges and hired a private detective in an attempt to discover information to justify withholding custody.

Contact an Experienced Kansas City Divorce Attorney

If you are facing a child custody issue, it’s crucial to have a knowledgeable attorney to fight for your rights and ensure the best interests of your children are met. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides skillful representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area who are facing a variety of divorce and child custody matters. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can assist you, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.