Missouri Child Custody: Deciding the best interests of the child

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, January 21, 2015.

Deciding child custody as part of a divorce or as a separate, stand-alone child custody dispute can be a difficult and emotionally-charged ruling for a Missouri judge to make. State law provides some guidance for judges by directing that custody should be decided by taking into consideration the best interests of the child, but it fails to offer a definition of what is meant by best interests.

The only guidance offered to judges to assist them in deciding issues of legal custody is a set of relevant factors that courts may take into consideration in making their decision. Essentially, a judge in St. Charles County is given the freedom and authority to apply his or her own set of values and expectations in arriving at a determination of the best interests of the child that could very well differ from his or her counterparts in other counties.

The factors that the statute offers to judges for considering in making a custody decision include the following:

  • The expressed wishes of the parents, as reflected in a parenting plan they submit to the court
  • The child’s need for, and ability to have, a meaningful relationship with both parents
  • The willingness of the parents to function as parents of the child
  • Relationship and interaction between the child and other members of the family unit
  • The adjustment of the child to home, community and school
  • Mental and physical health of the child and other members of the family unit including the parents
  • Proposed relocation of the child by either parent
  • The wishes of the child

These are not the only factors that judges may take into consideration. The law also asks judges to be mindful of the state policy that favors a child having frequent and meaningful time with both parents. Because of this, courts are encouraged to consider joint physical and joint legal custody, sole custody or even third-party custody arrangements to meet the best interests of the child.

Divorce and custody are complex areas of the law. An attorney familiar with Missouri law pertaining to child custody and its application in the courts might be a good resource for answers to your questions and concerns about legal custody, child relocation, visitation rights and other issues that frequently arise during a divorce or child custody dispute.

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