Deciding St. Louis MO Child Custody Cases

 

If divorcing parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement, a family court judge will decide instead. Typically, the judge will closely analyze the evidence and evaluate every relevant factor.

However, the whole process of deciding how to structure a custody arrangement for two households can be a daunting task. In addition, the judge has to consider relevant factors outlined in Missouri laws and evaluate them in light of the child’s best interest.

Missouri laws give specific guidelines for these factors and circumstances and can help the judge reach this difficult decision.

 

Relevant Factors St. Louis Judges Consider

 

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. The judge has to specifically consider 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.”

 

Judges’ Orders and Legal Child Custody Arrangements

 

In St. Louis, the judges begin from the position that joint legal custody and true joint physical custody (50/50) are in the best interests of the children. If parents want to change that arrangement into something different, it is up to them to convince the judge.

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.

 

Physical Child Custody Arrangements

 

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).

 

Common Child Custody Schedules

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

The first one includes alternating seven-day periods with the only issue being what day the transfer will take place. Most commonly that transfer is on Sundays so it doesn’t interfere with school.

The second schedule 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 weekend days change. Here’s an example:

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)

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.

 

Best Interests of the Child

 

When determining child custody arrangements, the St. Louis family court judge will decide between available options. These options can include the following:

  • Joint legal and joint physical custody;
  • Joint legal with sole physical custody awarded to one parent;
  • Sole legal and joint physical custody;
  • Sole legal and sole physical custody with allowed visitation rights.

If there is a risk that a parent with visitation rights would harm the child in any way, visitation may be supervised and limited.

Although specific factors have to be considered when making a custody determination, the court must, above all, consider which plan is in the best interest of the child.

If you or a loved one is dealing with child custody issues, it is essential to consult with an experienced MO child custody lawyer who can evaluate your case and guide you through the procedure.