Understanding Missouri’s Custody Terms

Child Custody letters with paper family of three

What Do the Custody Terms Full Custody, Joint Custody, Sole, and Split Custody Mean?

Child custody in Missouri is always based on what is in the best interests of the child. However, it’s important to understand that there are several different types of custody arrangements that can be used to allow the child to develop a meaningful relationship with both their parents. While Missouri’s child custody terms can often be confusing, it can be helpful to have a basic understanding of what each type of custody means.

Legal Custody

The two primary components of child custody are legal custody and physical custody. Specifically, legal custody refers to who will have decision-making rights for the child. This encompasses all aspects of the child’s upbringing that involve major decisions, such as what type of healthcare they will receive, where they will attend school, and what religion they will practice.

Physical Custody

Physical custody is the child custody term used to refer to with whom the child lives at a certain time. Missouri courts have a preference for joint physical custody, which means both parents have the right to take physical possession of the child at specified times. While the physical custody arrangement can also factor in to determine child support, reduced child support is usually still paid with a 50/50 joint parenting schedule.

Full Custody

Although “full custody” isn’t a child custody term you will find in Missouri’s child custody statute, it is generally used to refer to a situation where one parent has sole legal and physical custody of the children. Courts typically do not favor these types of arrangements because they do not help with the ultimate goal of allowing the child to foster a relationship with both parents. Nevertheless, there may be limited situations where a parent might be deemed unfit — such as those involving drug addiction, untreated mental illness, or a history of abuse.

Joint Custody

Under Missouri law, joint custody arrangements are usually considered to be in the best interests of a child. Parents may enter into a parenting plan on their own outside of court, or if they cannot agree, a judge will determine the outcome. In such cases, the court will select one of the parents as the “residential parent” for the purposes of school and mail. It will also decide the role each parent will play regarding legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (including the child’s day-to-day care and visitation matters).

Sole Custody

Sole custody is an alternative to joint custody which may be ordered by the court when appropriate. When legal custody is sole, it means one parent has the authority to make all the decisions for the child concerning their education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. When physical custody is sole, the child lives with one parent for the majority of the time and might only visit the other occasionally. As stated above, Missouri courts favor joint custody arrangements. But if evidence shows that the welfare of the child would be placed in jeopardy by spending time with a parent, their parenting time may be restricted, and the other parent may be awarded sole custody.

Split Custody

When the term “split custody” is used, it typically refers to an arrangement where the children are split between the two parents. In other words, some of the children would live with one parent, and the other children would reside with the other. This arrangement is not very common in Missouri, but it is not unheard of. Judges usually frown upon dividing siblings between homes, but if the parents agree to the arrangement and it is in the best interests of the children, it may be ordered by the court.

Parenting Time

Also called “visitation,” parenting time refers to the time the child is in a parent’s care. Parenting time can be established by voluntary written agreement of the parents — or if they do not agree, a judge can decide parenting time based on the best interests of the child. However, in order to be valid and legally enforceable, a judge must sign the agreement and issue an order. When considering a parenting time schedule, parents should focus on what is developmentally appropriate for the children and consider a schedule that allows them to spend quality time with both parents. There are numerous possibilities when it comes to creating a parenting time schedule, including summertime only, 3 day/4 day, 5 day/2 day, 50/50, or whatever schedule might work for the family.

Contact an Experienced Kansas City Divorce Attorney

Missouri’s child custody terms and child custody matters can be complex and it’s best to have a knowledgeable attorney by your side who can ensure your rights are protected — and the best interests of your children are met. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides reliable representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area who are facing 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.