How to Get Full Custody in Missouri: A Child Custody Lawyer’s Perspective

If you are looking to get full custody in Missouri, you must know what to expect. Learn what to do order to qualify for full custody.

Missouri Child Custody Laws


Although child custody is governed by Section 452.375 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, courts prefer to have parents work out custody arrangements. Parents can do this themselves, or employ attorneys or a qualified mediator to help them.

However, if Missouri parents cannot reach a custody arrangement, the court then steps in to decide which parent has legal custody. A knowledgeable divorce lawyer can help with this process.

The Family Court usually has jurisdiction over determining legal custody and physical custody.


Updated Missouri Child Custody Laws 

In 2016, Governor Nixon signed updated child custody laws that bring fairness in deciding Missouri child custody cases in the state.

The updated laws put the child’s best interests at the center of any joint child custody parenting plan. It removes the presumption that one parent is better suited for sole custody of the child based entirely on that parent’s gender, age, financial status, or the age or sex of the child.

How to File for Custody in Missouri

The process to file for child custody in Missouri is outlined below:

  1. Establish what type of case you have.
  2. Download and fill out forms to open a new custody case.
  3. Pay the filing fees.
  4. The parent that wishes to seek custody provides the other parent with copies of the filed application.
  5. Wait for the served parent to either agree or reject the terms stated in the filed application. Then either court proceedings will start, or a settlement will be entered into.

It is strongly recommended that you consult a child custody lawyer with an excellent attorney-client relationship record to help you win your custody battle.

How a Court Determines Custody in Missouri

According to Missouri child custody law, judges use the child’s best interests as a guiding principle of their decision. Under Missouri law, joint custody is usually in the best interests of the child.

To determine what is in a child’s best interests, the court will consider several factors that affect a child’s life. These factors include:

  • Relocation plans

  • The child’s adjustment to new routines

  • Each parent’s living situation.

  • Age of the child

  • Whether a parent pays child support

  • Meaningful relationship of each parent with the child before the divorce

  • The child’s emotional and physical stability in the home the child resides

Different Outcomes for Child Custody 

Child custody laws outline numerous potential custody outcomes that the court can choose based on the best interests of the child:

  • Both parents get joint custody of the child.
  • Both parents get joint legal custody, while one parent gets sole physical custody.
  • Both parents get joint physical custody of the child, and only one parent gets sole legal custody.
  • Custody by third parties, such as close relatives like grandparents.
  • Only one parent has both legal and sole physical custody.


Sole Custody in Missouri

Missouri child custody laws specify which parent gets custodial rights if one parent is considered unfit to assume the role of a parent.

Sole custody refers to one parent having legal and physical custody of the child. This means that this parent will have complete responsibility for the child.

What Can Make a Parent Be Deemed As Unfit?

Missouri law uses the federal law definition of an unfit parent.

A parent loses custodial rights as well as visitation rights when:

  • The parent is abusive to the child and has a history of domestic violence.

  • The parent neglects or fails to provide proper care for the child.

  • The parent has mental and physical health issues or addiction to drugs and alcohol.

  • The parent cannot provide essential care, support, and guidance to the child.


Is Missouri a Mother or Father State?


The answer is simply neither. No special treatment is given to either parent regarding child custody decisions based on their gender. Every parent gets a fair shot.

Missouri custody laws leave no room for bias by the court system in determining joint custody and issuing a custody order.

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