How Is Child Custody Determined in Missouri?

 It’s essential to understand how custody is determined in Missouri. The courts will look at many factors. Learn how a lawyer can help with your case.

What Governs Child Custody in Missouri?


In Missouri, child custody laws are governed under the Revised Missouri Statute 452.375, which defines everything in a child custody case, including support, legal rights, responsibility, and authority to make decisions about health and education. The court will determine the child custody in compliance with sections and subsections of this statute.

The Missouri family court will determine the custodial parent in the child’s best interest. For this, the court will consider several factors in both divorced parents and hear the child’s preferences on whom they want to live.

Determination of child custody is a hurtful process that would need your attention right after the divorce. To make rational decisions that result in the well-being of both parent and the child, you may benefit from the help of an experienced child custody lawyer Clayton MO.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody Arrangements?

In the Missouri Revised Statute of Child Custody 452.375, it is stated that the court will decide the child’s custody in its best interest. In this statute, there are five different child custody arrangement options.


Joint Legal Custody:

In joint custody, both parents will have equal rights in decision-making for the health, education, well-being, and upbringing of the child’s future and quality of life. Until or unless they receive an order from the court, both parents will participate in decision-making.


Joint Physical Custody:

The court will decide a specified time a child could live with both parents. This way, both parents would have enough time to spend with the child and strengthen their relationship.

Sole Legal Custody:

Depending on several factors, the court will grant the child custody to one parent. The other parent could contribute to child support and can have specified visitation time. But the custodial parent will have the authority to decide everything related to the child’s health and other legal matters.


Sole Physical Custody:

The court will grant the physical custody of the kid to one parent. The only parent will have the authority to make decisions for the best interest of the child.


Third-party Custody:

When the court finds that both parties or parents are unfit to have custody, another person from consanguinity or affinity to the child will be considered. However, if no one from the consanguinity or affinity to the child is willing to take the custodial responsibility, the court will designate any other person deemed by the court as a suitable option that can provide adequate support and resources for the well-being of the child.

In all of the options mentioned above, the court won’t give preferences to any parent based on their gender, age, or financial income while determining custody. The court will rationally decide only what is beneficial and of best interest to the child’s future.


Petitioning for a Sole Custody

When determining child custody in Missouri, courts believe that the child’s best interests are best served if the child or children have frequent continuing and meaningful contact with both parents. Although the court will consider several factors when determining custody, they will most often award parents joint legal custody.

But, if one parent believes the child should not be in contact with the other parent, they should present their concerns to the court. But, they will have to provide proof of why the other parent may have a detrimental effect on the child’s life. If successful, the court may award one parent sole custody.

In that case, the non-custodial parent may have visitation rights that allow them to spend time with their child. But, if that parent has been convicted of certain offenses like child abuse, he or she may only be given supervised visitation.

What are the Child Custody Laws in Missouri?

In Missouri law, child custody statutes consist of fifteen sections with several sub-sections defining definitions, arrangements, and different case scenarios. Here are the key points from the child custody laws in Missouri.

  • The court will determine the child’s custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. For this, the court will consider the child’s preference, parents’ wishes, and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parents. The needs of the child for a prospering and meaningful relationship with parents and the willingness of both parents in fulfilling their responsibilities would also be considered. Missouri courts would also consider the interaction of the child with siblings or any other person with a significant impact on the child, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent, and the child’s adjustment to the new home, school, and community. In addition, the mental and physical health of the person involved in the child custody proceeding would also have to be evaluated.
  • The court won’t grant custody or physical visitation to the parent who is found guilty or plead guilty to any of the felony violations and convictions mentioned in subsection (1) of section 3.
  • The general assembly declares that the continuing, frequent, and meaningful interaction of both parents with the child as they had before resolving their marriage is necessary except for the cases where the court declares that interaction of any of the parents could affect the child’s well-being.
  • Any person, whether a parent, a child’s relative or any other third party, can submit the petition for child custody.
  • If the court finds that any party has restricted any information related to the child, the court shall order the person to comply immediately and compensate the other party for the amount they used to find that information.
  • Any judgment submitted for the custody shall include specific written parenting plan arrangements specified in subsection 8 of section 452.310.


What is a Parenting Plan?

Missouri child custody laws state that the court also has to consider the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parents. The plan is actually a document that specifies several things, including the decision-making rights and responsibilities of both parents, the visitation schedule, and how child expenses will be paid. For example, it has to include specific information on when parents would meet to exchange the child, how the child would spend a vacation, birthdays, and other important information.

Understanding these custody laws could be challenging, especially when going through the emotional and financial trauma of divorce and child custody. Consulting with a skilled family law and child custody attorney is a great option.

What Are the Steps to Complete Missouri Child Custody Forms?

To begin with the child custody petition submission process, here is what you need to do.

Determine Your Case Type

There are three different case types, which are as follows.

  1. Married to the other parent, in this case, you can file for divorce or separate maintenance.
  2. Not married to the other parent but have established paternity, you can file a custody and support case.
  3. You can file a paternity case if you are not married and with no established paternity.


Form Completion

Once you have understood the case type, head over to the Missouri Self-Help website and download the forms. Please be noted that court clerks aren’t allowed to help you with the form submission. The parent who files the petition for custody is referred to as the petitioner, whereas the other parent is referred to as the respondent. However, both parents can be regarded as litigants.

For unconsented child custody cases, you can complete the petition for child custody and support forms (forms 1—4 and 6). Ensure that all signatures on the legal documents are notarized, and you can also decide how to co-parent until your child custody case ends.


Form Submission

Once completed, you can submit the forms to the County Circuit Court. You will be charged a fee at the time of form submission, depending on the County and case type. You can expect it to be anywhere between $200 to $300.

Consult with an Experienced Family Law Attorney

Going through a divorce and child custody case could be devastating. You might ignore any important factor and make emotional decisions. Working with a skilled family law attorney familiar with and who has prior experience in divorce and child custody cases can help you get the best possible outcomes.

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