28 Feb Missouri child custody and visitation: what you need to know
Sometimes, divorce is relatively simple; the couple divvies up marital debts and assets, determines whether one will pay spousal support (also known as “spousal maintenance” or “alimony”), and then splits to go their separate ways and start new lives.
Things, of course, get much more complicated when children are involved. It may be possible for parents to come up with their own workable custody and visitation arrangement. In other instances, residual bitterness, anger, confusion and hurt from the divorce or separation will boil over to the custody dispute, making it necessary for the court to decide.
Should it become necessary for a court to get involved, the judge won’t be making custody and visitation determinations in a vacuum. Not only does the court have access to facts in evidence about the couple and information provided by each party’s attorney and any interested parties (like guardians ad litem or social workers who may be involved) with input to provide, but Missouri laws also provide guidance.
The legal standard
Section 452.375 of the Missouri Revised Statutes mandates that judges make custody decisions based on the “best interests of the child” standard. The law sets forth several factors judges may consider when determining what sort of legal and physical custody schedule is best for an individual family, including:
- Wishes of the parents (including any proposed parenting plans one or both of them may have submitted)
- Wishes of the child
- The child’s need to have a relationship with both parents
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child (taking into account any mental, physical or substance abuse issues)
- If any abuse has been present in the family
- The child’s attachment and interaction with siblings, other close family members or other people who could “significantly affect the child’s best interests”
- Which parent will likely foster and support a relationship between the child and the other parent
- Either parent’s intention to relocate with the child if granted custody
- The child’s current adjustment to residence, school and community
An important related issue
If parties aren’t married when the child is born, there may be a need to establish paternity before any custody arrangement or request for child support is made. There are three ways in which paternity can be established:
- Voluntarily (both parents agree that a man is the child’s father)
- Through a declaration of paternity (when a man believes he is the father of a child, he can file a declaration of paternity with the Missouri Bureau of Vital Statistics)
- Court order (the State, through the Missouri Family Support Division, can bring a legal action to have paternity established, or a mother can bring an action of her own accord)
Making the right moves
Doing what is best for your child – even if you may not initially agree with it – is of the utmost importance when getting divorced or when making custody and visitation arrangements. To find out what your legal rights are, and how to make decisions that keep your child’s best interests at heart, consult a Missouri family law attorney.