When the parties cannot agree on the arrangements for decision-making and sharing of parenting time for their children, the Court is mandated by law to consider all relevant factors, specifically the following:

”  (1) The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;

(2)  The needs of the child 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;

(3)  The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

(4)  Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;

(5)  The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community;

(6)  The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved.  If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence as defined in section 455.010 has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law.  Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;

(7)  The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and

(8)  The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian.  The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.”

In St. Louis, the Judges begin from the position that joint legal custody and true joint physical custody (50/50) is in the best interests of the children and it is up to the parent who wishes something different to convince the judge of something different.

Increasingly with joint legal custody situations where the parties do not communicate well or make decisions together in an effective manner, judges pressure the parties into options that they cannot order except with the agreement of the parties, such as co-parent counseling and the appointment of a “parent coordinator.”

A parent coordinator (“PC”) is a specially trained lawyer (or retired judge) or mental health professional who has been appointed by a judge to assist the parties with the implementation of a Parenting Plan. The PC will make the decision on a particular issue in the event that the parents cannot.

“Co-parenting counseling” is exactly what its name indicates: a therapist with experience working with parents who are no longer (or were never really able to) work together to make joint decisions about their children together to assist them in learning to effectively communicate and to cooperate in order to support their children.  The success of co-parent counseling depends somewhat on the skill of the therapist but ultimately requires the commitment of both parents to do the hard work that is required. It is hard work, but well worth it.

 

With physical custody, again, the judges in St. Louis will order 50/50 time absent strong evidence that such an order is inappropriate.  There are many, many possible reasons that 50/50 custody will be found not to be in the best interests of the child, but most often include job-related issues like hours of employment that cannot be changed which make such a schedule unworkable (e.g., start time at 6 am).

With a 50/50 schedule, one of two different schedules are generally followed.

First, alternating seven-day periods with the only issue being what day the transfer will take place. Most commonly that transfer is on Sundays so not to interfere with school.

Second, what is called a 5-2 schedule (or a 2-2-3, which is the same thing). Under this plan the weekdays for each parent remain the same and the week-end days alternate:

Week 1

Parent A: Monday-Tuesday (until Wednesday morning)

Parent B: Wednesday-Thursday (until Friday morning)

Parent A: Friday-Monday (morning)

 

Week 2

Parent A: Monday-Tuesday (until Wednesday morning)

Parent B: Wednesday-Thursday (until Friday morning)

Parent B: Friday-Monday (morning)CHILD CUSTODY

The result of this schedule is that each parent has seven nights out of fourteen.

Holidays and special days such as birthdays and Mother’s/Father’s Day must be addressed as well.