Issues regarding custody and visitation will always arise in a divorce (dissolution of marriage) proceeding if there are children, and can also arise in paternity cases or independent actions for custody. When parents are divorcing, Missouri law requires that the court order a parenting plan as part of the dissolution. When the parents are not married, it is often in the interest of the child for one or both of the parents to seek a custody and visitation order from the court.
When a Petition for Dissolution is filed, the children come under the immediate jurisdiction of the court. Thereafter, neither party may remove the children for a period of more than 90 days nor remove them from the care and custody of the party who has custody when the action is filed.
Below you will find information about Missouri child custody law. If you are facing negotiations or a court determination of custody in your case, we strongly recommend that you consult with an experienced Missouri child custody attorney. Kansas City attorney Mark Wortman has helped many parents advocate for the best custody arrangements for their families. His years of experience help parents avoid pitfalls and provide lasting security for their kids.
There are 4 different categories of child custody arrangements:
Note that there is no such thing in Missouri family law as “full custody” or “standard visitation.” The specific schedule of visitation and terms for each parenting plan vary from case to case, and must be carefully drawn up by the custody lawyer to meet the particular needs of the family.
Missouri courts strongly prefer joint legal and physical custody arrangements over sole custody arrangements, provided that the best interests and welfare of the child are served.
Legal custody means generally the rights of the parents to make decisions regarding training, education, and rearing, etc. and includes:
Joint legal custody means that the parents share equally in all of the decision making rights and responsibilities, and so will decide the following together:
Alternatively, in a sole legal custody arrangement, a single parent is awarded legal custody, and they may unilaterally make these decisions.
Physical custody means that the right of the parents to have actual physical parenting time with the children. In a joint physical custody arrangement, each of the parents have physical parenting time with the children and share time in accordance with a written schedule (sometimes known as “visitation”).
A determination must be made for a schedule of parenting time, where each parent will have specifically designated times with the children, which generally include a residential schedule, a schedule for holidays, summertime, transportation, and vacations. Joint custody does not necessarily mean that each parent will be with the children for an equal amount of time, it simply means that both parents have physical time with the children. The actual schedule will differ on a case by case basis.
Sole physical custody means that the child will reside with only one parent, and will have limited or no physical contact with the other parent.
At any stage of the divorce proceeding, the parents may enter into a written parenting plan, which will detail the terms of child custody, child support, and the visitation arrangement. However, before approving such an arrangement, the court must consider these factors.
A typical parenting plan will provide one parent having primary custody and the other parent will have visitation every other weekend, one or two evenings during the week, alternating holidays, and spring and summer vacations. Note however that each family is different, and each plan should be specifically tailored and crafted to the family’s particular situation, and should serve the child’s best interest.
A parenting plan ordered by the court will help parents co-parent if they are unmarried or after they have separated or divorced. The plan will give the parents a written guideline of what each parent’s responsibilities are and what obligations that they have to their children. It will establish child support and will give them a court ordered document to rely on should disputes arise. The plan will also prohibit one parent from relocating the child to another residence without the specific consent of the other parent or an order from the court.
The following are required by Missouri law to be included in a parenting plan:
The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including:
In Missouri, there is a specific law that details under what circumstances Missouri courts have jurisdiction to make custody and visitation orders, called the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act or MoUCCJEA. If the requirements of this law are not met, then a Missouri court cannot enter a parenting plan for the children. Even if jurisdiction is proper for, say, dissolution of marriage or a paternity case, the court can dissolve the marriage or declare a father, but cannot make any orders pertaining to the children. Read more about the MoUCCJEA.
For more information about child custody — and to get help your case — contact experienced Kansas City divorce attorney Mark A. Wortman.