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Kansas City Child Custody Attorney

About Missouri Child Custody Law

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.

Custody and Visitation

There are 4 different categories of child custody arrangements:

  1. Sole legal custody
  2. Sole physical custody
  3. Joint legal custody
  4. Joint physical custody

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

Legal custody means generally the rights of the parents to make decisions regarding training, education, and rearing, etc. and includes:

  • The choice or change of school, college, camp, or comparable summer activity
  • Special tutoring, music, sports, art, dance, and other cultural lessons
  • Psychological or psychiatric treatment or counseling, doctors, and surgeons; notice of illness and injury
  • All other material decisions affecting the health, education, and welfare of the children

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:

  • Educational instruction
  • Religious instruction
  • Health care
  • Discipline
  • Child care providers

Alternatively, in a sole legal custody arrangement, a single parent is awarded legal custody, and they may unilaterally make these decisions.

Physical Custody

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.

What is a Parenting Plan?

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.

Advantages of a Court Ordered Parenting Plan

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.

Contents of the Parenting Plan

The following are required by Missouri law to be included in a parenting plan:

  1. A specific written schedule detailing the custody, visitation and residential time for each child with each party including:
    1. Major holidays stating which holidays a party has each year
    2. School holidays for school-age children
    3. The child's birthday, Mother's Day and Father's Day
    4. Weekday and weekend schedules and for school-age children how the winter, spring, summer and other vacations from school will be spent
    5. The times and places for transfer of the child between the parties in connection with the residential schedule
    6. A plan for sharing transportation duties associated with the residential schedule
    7. Appropriate times for telephone access
    8. Suggested procedures for notifying the other party when a party requests a temporary variation from the residential schedule
    9. Any suggested restrictions or limitations on access to a party and the reasons such restrictions are requested
  2. A specific written plan regarding legal custody which details how the decision-making rights and responsibilities will be shared between the parties including the following:
    1. Educational decisions and methods of communicating information from the school to both parties
    2. Medical, dental and health care decisions including how health care providers will be selected and a method of communicating medical conditions of the child and how emergency care will be handled
    3. Extracurricular activities, including a method for determining which activities the child will participate in when those activities involve time during which each party is the custodian
    4. Child care providers, including how such providers will be selected
    5. Communication procedures including access to telephone numbers as appropriate
    6. A dispute resolution procedure for those matters on which the parties disagree or in interpreting the parenting plan
    7. If a party suggests no shared decision-making, a statement of the reasons for such a request
  3. How the expenses of the child, including child care, educational and extraordinary expenses as defined in the child support guidelines established by the Supreme Court, will be paid including:
    1. The suggested amount of child support to be paid by each party
    2. The party who will maintain or provide health insurance for the child and how the medical, dental, vision, psychological and other health care expenses of the child not paid by insurance will be paid by the parties
    3. The payment of educational expenses, if any
    4. The payment of extraordinary expenses of the child, if any
    5. Child care expenses, if any
    6. Transportation expenses, if any

Factors Missouri Courts Must Consider in Ordering 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:

  1. The wishes of the child's parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties
  2. The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests
  4. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent
  5. The child's adjustment to the child's home, school, and community
  6. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm.
  7. The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child
  8. The wishes of a child as to the child's custodian

Jurisdiction for Missouri Custody Matters

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 on Child Custody in Missouri

For more information about child custody — and to get help your case — contact experienced Kansas City divorce attorney Mark A. Wortman.

Missouri Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act

The law that details under what circumstances Missouri courts have jurisdiction to make custody and visitation orders is the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act or MoUCCJEA. If the requirements of this law are not met, then a Misso… Read More

Mark A. Wortman

Mark A. Wortman's Profile Image
Kansas City family law attorney Mark A. Wortman handles only divorce and family law matters, and practices only in the State of Missouri. Due to this specialty, Mark has handled thousands of Missouri divorce and family cases and has practiced extensi… Read More