Divorce is tragic, especially when children are involved. Their lives are upended, they often face undue stress, find themselves in the middle between parents who are at odds and deal with constant uncertainty.
For many children, questions like “Where will I live?”, “Where will I go to school?”, “Will I get to see both of my parents?” weigh heavily on their minds.
Those are all legitimate questions, the answers to which will often come from the courts. What the courts decide can have a profound and lifelong effect on a child’s life.
The Goal Of The Courts For Child Custody Decisions
Missouri courts almost universally view child custody decisions as extremely serious matters and are guided in these decisions by one primary goal: Doing what is in the best interests of the child/children.
This may sound simple, but it can be extremely complex as “the best interests” can often be an extremely subjective standard. Fully understanding the nuances of relationships between parents and children are impossible for a judge to know.
Often, courts have to weigh what they know of these relationships with a number of other factors in making a decision on child custody. It’s a nearly impossible task to get perfect, but one that judges face every day.
Under Missouri law, divorcing parents who have not reached an agreement on custody legally leave custody decisions to the courts.
Missouri family courts adhere to state statutes, which are very clear on nearly every factor involved with custody decisions, which again, seek to act in the best interests of the child/children.
So, what are those factors?
Is There Any History Of Violence Or Abuse On The Part Of Either Parent?
Courts take any confirmed evidence of domestic violence, neglect or any form of abuse very seriously when deciding custody.
Missouri courts recognize domestic violence is a growing problem across the U.S. and that as many as 15.5 million children witness acts of domestic violence in American households each year.
Judges rightfully see previous examples of domestic violence, abuse and neglect as extremely important considerations in child custody.
Finally, under Missouri law, a parent found guilty of felonies involving a full range of sexual abuse, and/or child trafficking, is prohibited from being awarded custody or unsupervised visitation with their child or children.
This also applies to parents living with a person found guilty of these felonies.
The Needs Of The Child/Children
Missouri courts go to great lengths to assess the needs of the children 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.”
In short, courts do their best to ensure each parent has the opportunity to play a continuing role in the upbringing of their children.
Courts also take into consideration possible interactions between the child/children and parents, siblings, and others who may have an impact on a child’s interests. This could include grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other family members, or even new partners of the parents.
How Supportive And Cooperative Is Each Parent?
Under Missouri law, courts deciding custody must also consider how likely each parent is to allow the child/children to have “frequent, continuing and meaningful” contact with the other parent.
Parents who are committed to their children having a positive relationship with their spouse are looked upon favorably by the courts.
The Emotional Adjustment Of The Child
State law also requires courts to consider how well-adjusted children are to their home, school, and community. In cases in which children are thriving in their environment, a parent who is committed to keeping children in their home, attending the same schools, and living in their home community are viewed in a positive light by courts.
In contrast, courts will take into consideration either parent’s intention to relocate the principal residence of a child who is well-adjusted and comfortable with their school and community.
The Wishes of the Children
As is the case with the laws of many states, Missouri law also calls for courts to consider the wishes of children with respect to custody in a divorce.
Marler Law Partners Can Help With Child Custody In Missouri
Nothing is more important than your children. If you may be facing divorce or are in the middle of a divorce, contact Marler Law Partners for a free consultation.
We have assisted countless St. Louis and Southeast Missouri clients – and their children – through divorce, custody plan development and petitions for changing custody orders.
We will tirelessly advocate for you and your children with professionalism and compassion from start to finish.