When a marriage or relationship ends and the individuals involved have a child together, establishing a legal parenting plan helps ensure that he or she maintains a healthy relationship with both parents. In Missouri, state law encourages judges to award 50/50 custody except in cases of domestic violence, neglect or substance abuse.

Understanding the child custody process in Missouri can provide reassurance as you work toward a fair parenting agreement.

Types of custody

The law distinguishes between physical and legal custody. Physical custody describes the amount of time spent with each parent while legal custody is the ability to make important decisions on the child’s behalf. The court can award shared physical and legal custody, sole legal and shared physical custody, shared legal and sole physical custody or sole legal and physical custody.

Custody considerations

When creating a child custody plan, the judge considers the arrangement that will be in the child’s best interest. Contributing factors include the following:

  • A history of violence or neglect
  • The physical and mental health of each parent
  • Whether each parent will facilitate a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent
  • Either parent’s plans to relocate to another area
  • The child’s desires if he or she is old enough to make a decision
  • The child’s existing relationship with each parent
  • Each parent’s wishes

The custody process

If you and the child’s other parent cannot agree on a custody and visitation plan, you can ask the court to decide by filing the state form Petition for Child Custody. The court will notify the other parent of the petition, and he or she will have 30 days to respond. Once the court receives the response, the clerk schedules a hearing date at which each parent can present his or her parenting plan and related evidence. Based on this information, the judge will make a legally binding custody determination.

You can have legal representation at a custody hearing. You can also have an attorney help you negotiate an agreement with the other parent without a hearing.