Understanding How Child Custody Is Determined In Missouri

When awarding child custody, Missouri courts may weigh a family’s preferences, the child’s relationships, the parents’ capabilities and any safety concerns.

Each year, divorce affects about 1.5 million children throughout the United States, according to Scientific American. For the parents of these children, finding the most suitable child custody arrangement afterward can be a top concern and a significant source of stress. Consequently, most parents who are preparing for divorces in St. Louis can benefit from understanding how child custody is determined under state law.

Best interests standard

First and foremost, under the Missouri Revised Statutes, family law courts must keep the best interests of each child in mind when awarding custody. While a judge may take the wishes of both parents and the child into account, these preferences don't override the best interests standard. Even if parents agree on a proposed custody arrangement, the court must review it and confirm that it is the best option for the child.

Personal relationships

A child's personal relationships can be an important factor during custody determinations. A judge may consider the nature and depth of the relationship between the child and each parent. The ways that a proposed custody arrangement would impact a child's relationship with siblings and other family members may also be taken into account.

Parental capabilities

Each parent's ability and willingness to perform parental duties may be weighed during child custody determinations. A judge may also consider each parent's mental and physical health. Additionally, a judge may evaluate how likely each parent is to support the child's ongoing relationship with the other parent. A parent who appears likely to obstruct this relationship through relocation or other measures may be less likely to receive custody, particularly in contested custody cases.

Safety concerns

Family law judges also take the safety of the child into account when deciding how to award custody. Therefore, any history of abuse or domestic violence on the part of a parent must be factored in during the custody determination process. Documented or alleged domestic violence does not necessarily preclude a person from receiving custody, but state law does require that custody be awarded in a manner that best protects the child as well as the victimized spouse.

Assistance in seeking custody

Given these complex criteria, predicting how child custody will be awarded in a Missouri divorce can be challenging. The way that parents present their lifestyles, relationships, views of each other and desires can be highly influential. As a result, most parents who are seeking custody may benefit from securing the assistance of a family law attorney. An attorney may be able to help a parent craft a workable parenting plan and present his or her case effectively in the event of a dispute.