Ending a relationship is never an easy thing, and depending on the circumstances surrounding the couple, it can be more complicated than originally imagined. Couples ending their marriage often have to work on separating their assets and dealing with the issues of spousal support. Should a couple share children, they will likely have to go through the motions of a child custody case, which can be emotionally draining and often painful. When it comes to child custody cases in Missouri, the best interests of the child involved in the case are the court’s top, most important priority.
Best Interests of the Child Standard in Missouri
When a family court is deciding a child custody case, it must take the best interest of the child into the highest consideration. While each child custody case is different, the judge begins his or her evaluation of the case with the assumption that keeping both parents equally involved in the child’s life is in the child’s best interest. Missouri state law specifically states that children will benefit from “frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents”, as well as having both of their parents “participate in decisions affecting the health, education and welfare […]” (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.375.4.)
Determining Factors in Child Custody Cases of Missouri
When making decisions in a child custody case, the state of Missouri provides the family court system with a list of factors that are meant to help its decision making process. While this list is not exhaustive, the factors that are indicated will generally fall into the following categories:
- Child’s Health and Safety
The safety of the child is a primary concern for the court. If the judge deciding the case finds that one of the parents poses a risk to the child’s safety or another person in the child’s household or family, he or she may move to limit the amount of time that parent spends with the child and may even order them to participate in supervised visitation. If one parent or someone living with one of the parents has ever been convicted or plead guilty to a certain category of felonies including exploitation of a child or sexual assault, the court will not award them custody of the child in question.
Since the safety of the child is the top priority, courts will generally look more at the parents’ ability to care for and provide for the child rather than their financial situation when looking at the best interests.
- Child’s Emotional Needs
When making a determination in the case, the judge also looks at the quality of the relationship between the child and both of the parents in addition to each parents’ individual ability and willingness to devote time to the child. For factors that fall into this category, the ages and genders of the parents and children are not relevant factors in the decision making process. The court system will generally favor the parent who can provide a stable living environment and will also take the child’s ability to adjust to a new home and new community into consideration.
Should a parent want to change the child’s current living situation, the judge also looks at the child’s ability to adjust to a new school or a change in environment if the child is home-schooled. Additionally, the judge will favor a custody arrangement that allows children to properly maintain current relationships, such as those with other siblings, grandparents and peers who are important in their lives. Should the court determine that the child in the case is mature enough and old enough to make intelligent decisions, it may allow him or her to state a preference.
- Ability to Co-Parent
Aside from looking at how the child will adjust to a new living situation, the judge also looks at each parent and their ability and willingness to step into a co-parenting role. Missouri state law puts heavy emphasis on the importance of each parent being willing and able to foster a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Unless there is evidence that proves that the child should not have regular contact with one of the parents, the law requires parents to encourage frequent communication and contact between the child and the other parent.
Child Custody Arrangement Options in Missouri
In the state of Missouri, “child custody” is defined by two areas of custody – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right and responsibility of the parent to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, including medical and educational decisions, decisions about their religious upbringing and the child’s involvement in the community. Physical custody refers to the amount of time the child spends residing with or under the care of one of the parents.
Since keeping consistent and frequent contact between the child and both parents is a top priority, the court works to arrange joint custody agreements, whether it is joint legal, joint physical or both, and the court will not deny a joint arrangement simply because one parent is not in favor of it. With that being said, Missouri law does not stop judges from denying joint custody, and they may make another custody arrangement depending on the circumstances surrounding the case and the child’s best interests.
Child Custody Modification in Missouri
Whether the child custody arrangement is reached by a judge’s ruling or by the approval of the parents’ parenting plan, there may come a time when changes need to be made to this arrangement to help better serve and support the child. If both parents see a need for modification and can agree on what changes need to be made, they need to present this modification to the court system for approval. Once it have been agreed to by both parties and approved, it becomes legally binding.
Should only one of the parents involved want a modification, they bear the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the judge to approve the change. Often times, the standard for changing a child custody agreement is set very high, and the parent needs to prove an absolute need for the change to be made even if the other parent does not agree. If the child custody modification benefits the child in a significant way, it may be possible to have the modification approved by the judge.
Child Custody and Relocation in Missouri
Relocation requests are handled in a very serious manner, simply because this type of move can often disturb the child’s day to day life. Problems with relocation most often occur when one parent has custody of the child and wants to move them farther away from the other parent. In these cases, the relocating parent carries the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the judge that a move is necessary despite the protest from the other parent. Some factors that the judge considers when making a relocation decision include:
- Why the relocation is being requested
- What benefits will experience should the relocation be approved
- Why the other parent is contesting the relocation
- The relationship between the child and both of the parents