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What does the 'best interests of the child' mean in child custody?

If you are going through a divorce or negotiating a child custody plan, you have probably heard the phrase "best interests of the child." Like other states, Missouri uses the best interests of the child standard when determining or approving a child custody plan. But what does that mean?

The best interests of the child may seem subjective, and to some extent they are. You and your child's other parent may even disagree on what is best for your child. However, Missouri courts take several factors into consideration when reviewing a proposed custody plan. Understanding what they are can give you a better idea of what to expect and what to think about when negotiating a custody plan.

Some of the most important factors are:

  1. The wishes of both parents
  2. The importance of the child maintaining a relationship with both parents
  3. Whether each parent is willing and able to perform parental duties
  4. The physical and mental health of both parents and the child
  5. Whether there has been any pattern of abuse
  6. The willingness of each parent to allow the other parent to continue building a relationship with the child
  7. The wishes of the child, depending on his or her age and the child's maturity level
  8. The proximity of the residences of the two parents
  9. The work schedule of both parents
  10. Whether each parent is capable or willing to provide a safe environment for the child
  11. Whether the child may be exposed to negative factors while in a parent's custody such as drugs, other illegal activities, excessive drinking, or allowed to be near sexual predators

The court determines the best interests of the child on a case-by-case basis. While these are important factors to consider, they are not the only ones that will be taken into account.

Will I get custody?

In general, Missouri courts favor allowing both parents to continue seeing their child on a regular basis. If you and your child's other parent were able to negotiate a parenting plan that you both agree on, the court is more likely to approve it. However, there are exceptions. If there has been a history of abuse or other circumstances that may put the child at risk, the court may rule in favor of one parent.

The best way to know more about how the court may treat your specific situation is to speak with an experienced family law attorney. An attorney can help you better understand your options and how best to approach child custody.

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