Divorce is a complex process and can get especially tumultuous when child custody issues come into the picture. In fact, one of the most common concerns among divorcing couples with kids relates to how Missouri laws operate around child custody and if they stand a fair chance at it. If you are considering a 50 50 custody schedule in St. Louis, there is information you should know before negotiating.
As experienced St Louis child custody lawyers, we can confirm that Missouri law does not give special preference to mothers, but gives both parents an equal chance at obtaining custody.
That being said, you should not assume that child custody is divided equally between both parents. There is much confusion surrounding the law passed in 2016. While it does not mandate Missouri judges to award 50-50 custody time, it suggests that equal custody be granted as far as possible.
In other words, 50-50 child custody is not guaranteed. The judges make all custody-related decisions with the child’s best interests in mind.
Let’s explore further.
Child Custody in St. Louis, Missouri
A new House Bill called HB 229 is pushing for split custody arrangements in Missouri. If this bill becomes a law, the parent who wishes to get more than 50 percent of custody will have to prove in court that it is in the best interest of the child.
The court may grant either sole custody or joint custody, and it is also possible that one parent gets more time with the child than the other, in accordance with the child’s best interest. The judge will consider the following factors when arriving at this decision:
- Both parents’ ability to raise the child
- The child’s relationship with each parent
- The child’s adjustment to each parent’s home and community
- The physical and mental wellbeing of each parent
- The child’s wishes
- History of abuse
Types of Custody in St. Louis, Missouri
In Missouri, two types of custody can be awarded: legal and physical. Parents with legal custody can make most of the major life decisions on behalf of the child. These include decisions regarding health, education, religion, daycare, extracurricular activities, and any other major decision that can greatly impact the child’s life.
Physical custody has more to do with where the child lives. In both arrangements, parents can receive either joint or sole custody. So, parents considering their chances of receiving “full custody” can be assumed to be looking for sole legal and physical custody.
With changing times, court judges are considering the father’s role greatly in the child’s upbringing when awarding custody. Hence, judges are now more inclined towards granting joint legal or physical custody. This outlook is further supported by the proven fact that a child develops better when raised among both parents.
However, as the facts and circumstances involved in each case are different, judges may award a combination of these custody arrangements.
In joint legal custody, both parents make decisions on behalf of the child. If there is a disagreement and a decision cannot be made, then the parent who has the authority to take the final call makes the decision.
In sole legal custody, on the other hand, only one parent has the authority to make decisions. This parent has to inform the other parent of any decision they make.
In sole physical custody, the custodial parent gets the majority of the time, and the non-custodial parent gets visitation times. This entire arrangement is mentioned and detailed in the parenting plan so there is no room for confusion and conflict.
When joint physical custody is awarded, both parents get a considerable amount of parenting time with the child. However, it may not necessarily be in the 50-50 ratio. The presumption of the court in Missouri is that parents share joint legal and physical custody of the child. The courts generally default to a joint custody arrangement unless either of the parents is found to abuse or neglect the needs of the child, or if the court finds the case to involve factors such as:
- Child abandonment
- Failure of the primary caretaker to perform their duties
- Failure of an unmarried father to prove paternity of the child
- Parental mental illness or substance abuse
- History of violence
- Failure to maintain employment and stability in housing
- Preference by an older child to live with a specific parent
- A parenting plan where the schedule doesn’t permit substantial time with the child, i.e. the child spending of his/her time in day-care or child-care institutes rather with the parent
- A parent who is incapable of looking after a child with special needs
- A parent who is unable to ensure the child’s emotional wellbeing
These are just a few of the many scenarios where joint custody may not be awarded by the courts.
Determining the Child’s Best Interests
Ultimately, the court is bound by law to act in the child’s best interests. Under 50 50 parenting plans, the court may only deviate from split parenting time upon a showing that doing so is in the child’s best interest. For that reason, understanding what constitutes the best interest of the child is vital. When determining the best interest of the child, there are eight factors the court must take into account. These factors include:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;
- The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with 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, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence as defined in section 455.010 has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;
- The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and
- The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian. The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.
Modifying a Child Custody Order in St. Louis and Missouri
When the court issues a final custody order providing for 50 50 custody, that ordered is considered final. That term can be misleading, as it remains possible for the courts to modify a child custody at any point in the future. In other words, a judge could modify the terms of a 50 50 custody agreement at a later date.
The courts might retain the power to modify a child custody order, but that does not mean every request for modification will be granted. First, a parent must demonstrate that there has been a material change in circumstances. This change in circumstances could be in the life of either parent or in the life of the child.
There are different situations that will qualify as a material change in circumstances. Some material changes in circumstances could involve the health of the children, the refusal to comply with visitation guidelines, or major shifts in living situations. If the court determines there has been no material change in circumstances, a modification of the child custody order is inappropriate. Even if there has been a material change in circumstances, the court will only modify a 50 50 custody order if doing so is in the best interest of the child.
The Two Ways to Modify a Custody Order in St. Louis
In St. Louis, there are two ways for a parent to modify a custody order. When two parents have an amicable relationship, the simplest way to secure a modification is through a mutual agreement. The reality with most cases is that this is not a realistic option.
When the parents cannot agree on whether a modification is necessary, the parent that wants to alter the agreement must file a motion to modify custody. After filing the motion, the court will set the matter for a hearing. At the hearing, both spouses will have the opportunity to be heard regarding the modification of the 50 50 custody agreement.
Determining child custody is one of the most crucial factors in family law. After all, the final outcome can impact the everyday life of the parents and the child. It is important for parents to understand their rights and defenses to increase the likelihood of achieving a favorable result. It makes sense to consult an experienced St Louis child custody lawyer and get your questions and concerns addressed. Remember, your children deserve nothing but the best from you.
Consult J. Rench Child Custody Lawyers When Considering a 50 50 Custody Schedule in St. Louis
As a good parent, you want to spend as much time as possible with your children and be involved in their lives. You also want to keep them away from an environment that brings about confusion and frustration. Knowing your parenting options is the first step towards achieving these goals. Discuss your unique case facts with the team of experienced St Louis child custody lawyers at the J. Rench Law Firm on (314) 549-1029. You can also contact us online.
This blog was originally published on October 31, 2020 and updated on July 27, 2021.