child custody laws in missouri

Child custody is one of the most important and often contentious parts of a Missouri divorce. Child custody laws are governed by Missouri Statutes 452.375 and its related sections. Child custody petitions and decisions must conform to these requirements. Navigating these complexities on your own can be tricky, but the right legal assistance can protect your rights and the well-being of your children.

At Wegmann Law Firm, we understand how important child custody is to your life. Our dedicated child custody lawyers handle your case with compassion, experience, and respect. 

Types of Child Custody Under Missouri Law

Missouri law divides child custody into five separate categories. These include the following:

  • Joint physical and legal custody by both parents
  • Joint legal custody by both parents with physical custody by one parent
  • Joint physical custody by both parents but legal custody by one parent
  • Sole legal and physical custody by one parent
  • Third party custody or visitation

Which type of custody you might get depends on your unique situation. Many divorcing parents can agree on custody. Where they cannot, the court may have to decide child custody based on applicable Missouri law.

Who Decides Who Gets Custody?

Missouri law requires that the court decide child custody based on the best interests of the children. The court must decide which parent will have legal custody. Legal custody means the parent will have decision-making rights, healthcare authority, and education and welfare authority over the child. The court must also determine which parent will have physical control and access to the child, which is referred to as physical custody.

If the parents can agree on a custody arrangement, most courts will agree to that as well. Ultimately, the court makes the decision and will adopt an agreed custody arrangement if it finds that it is in the best interests of the children.

In making its decision, the court must consider many factors, such as:

  • What the parents desire and any proposed parenting plan submitted by the parties
  • The needs of the children for continuing, meaningful, and frequent relationships without both parents, and the parents’ willingness to perform their parenting functions
  • The interaction and interrelationship between the parents, children, siblings, and other meaningful people that affect the child’s best interests
  • Which parent is most likely to facilitate meaningful, frequent, and continuing contact with the other parent
  • The children’s’ adjustment to school, home, and community
  • The physical and mental health of everyone involved, including any history of abuse
  • The wishes of the children as to custody
  • The intention of either parent to relocate the children or their principal residence

These factors and others help a court decide what is in the child’s best interest, and pick the appropriate custody arrangement.

When Do the Child’s Wishes Become Relevant?

Many parents wonder how much influence their child’s choice has on the court’s decision. It is far from the only factor the court considers, and a court will not simply pick the parent that the child does. However, courts have indicated that around age 11 a child is able to express themselves adequately to give weight to this opinion.

The 50/50 Presumption for Child Custody

Under Missouri law which took effect in August, 2023, it is now rebuttably presumed that equal parenting time is in the best interests of the children. This presumption may be rebutted by a preponderance of the evidence.

What this means, practically speaking, is that the court will start with the presumption that joint legal and physical custody is the best option for your family. If you believe another arrangement is more appropriate, you and your attorney must provide evidence which justifies this belief.

The court can consider many of the factors listed above in making their determination as to whether the presumption has been overcome. An agreed parenting plan can also rebut this presumption, so long as the court agrees it is in the best interests of the children.

Get Help With Child Custody Issues in Missouri

Child custody is a complicated and often stressful issue for families. There is a lot to consider when deciding who should be the legal or residential parent, or whether you can share parenting. You may want joint custody, or may need help overcoming the presumption because the other parent should not have equal control.

At the Wegmann Law Firm, we provide local representation you can count on. Our experienced child custody lawyers have decades of experience in these matters, and know how to help you. Request a consultation today to get started.