Child Custody: What You Need To Know
Litigation involving child custody is often one of the most significant and difficult situations individuals will encounter during their lives. The process is foreign to most people and can be emotionally and physically challenging. When confronted with a child custody dispute, it’s imperative that you understand Missouri law, and it’s crucial that you employ a competent and experienced family law attorney who can advocate on your behalf.
Legal and Physical Custody
Missouri law provides two components for every child custody determination. First, the court must decide how the parents will share decision making rights, responsibilities and authority. This is referred to as legal custody. Legal custody includes, among other decisions, the right and ability to determine the child’s schooling, religious upbringing, and major medical based needs. If the parents are unable to make these decisions mutually, the court is required to determine which parent is best suited to make these decisions.
The second component of child custody requires the court to determine how much time the child will spend with each parent. This component is referred to as physical custody. After considering all of the evidence and the parties’ proposed parenting plans, the court will craft a custody schedule setting forth the precise days and times each parent is to have custody of the child.
When petitioning for child custody, it’s important to determine whether sole custody or joint custody is in your child’s best interests. Another important and interrelated consideration is child support. Which parent, if any, will pay child support and in what amount.
Child Custody Standard
Missouri law requires the court to determine what is in the child’s best interests before fashioning a child custody award. There are several relevant factors the court must consider, including:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plans of each party;
- The needs of the child for frequent, continuing and meaningful relationships with both parents and the ability and willingness of the parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the parents, siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;
- The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school and community;
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
- The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and
- The wishes of the child as to the child’s custodian.
The foregoing list is not an exclusive or exhaustive list of the factors courts considering when fashioning a child custody award. Other important factors should be considered and presented to the court when appropriate. Presenting evidence of any factor, whether enumerated above or not, requires detailed and skilled investigation and collection of persuasive and relevant evidence. Introduction of such evidence also requires a thorough understanding of the Missouri Rules of Evidence in order to present it to the judge.
Based on the significant interests at stake in a child custody lawsuit, and the complexity of such lawsuits, the need for an informed and competent attorney is critical. If you, or someone you know, is in need of legal advice or representation due to a lawsuit involving child custody, please give us a call today and speak with one of our experienced attorneys. We are ready and willing to fight for you and your child.