Some clients who come to Stange Law Firm, PC inquire about the possibility of receiving "full custody" of their children. We ask if they are referring to "sole" legal and physical custody, because under Missouri law, there are only two types of custody available-legal and physical. Legal custody has to do with who makes major decisions on behalf of the child. Physical custody deals with the location where the child resides. In both arrangements, either "joint" or "sole" custody can be awarded.
Times have changed. Judges in Missouri and Illinois no longer automatically award sole custody to the mother, but now take into consideration the role of the father as well, since there is a wealth of documentation that shows how children do better when their fathers are involved in their lives. That being said, judges today lean toward granting joint custody whether legal and/or physical. There may be a combination of these custody arrangements employed because every case is unique and has its own set of circumstances to take into consideration.
In joint legal custody, both parents are involved in the decision-making process. If a decision cannot be made, then one parent usually has the authority to make the final decision. Sole legal custody is just the opposite, meaning only one parent has the authority to make the decisions, but still has to inform the other parent of that decision. Legal custody entails decisions based on education, health, religion, daycare, extra -curricular activities, and any decision that has a major impact on the child's life.
In sole physical custody, the custodial parent has the child the majority of the time with visitation times designated for the non-custodial parent which is specified in the parenting plan. Joint physical custody means that both parents share a significant amount of parenting time with the child, but not necessarily 50/50. Parents who share joint physical custody designate the primary residence used for educational and mailing purposes for the child.
The presumption of Missouri and Illinois courts is that parents share joint legal and physical custody. This custody arrangement has gained more momentum from Missouri and Illinois judges in the last two years. According to Jillian Wood, Esq., attorney at Stange Law Firm, PC , "Unless there are allegations of abuse or neglect by either of the parents or the court finds the parents truly cannot work together to make decisions about the health, education, religious upbringing, or general welfare of their children, courts generally default to a joint custody arrangement."
This rise in joint custody arrangements has led to the much written about style of parenting called "co-parenting" in which parents from separate households come up with consistent guidelines to parent their children together. Co-parenting has almost become the new norm in family law for parenting styles. An example of this is the well understood and spelled out rule in most parenting plans: parents should not argue in front of their children as it is detrimental to their emotional well-being. Judges take factors like this into consideration-- how well each parent relates to one another and to the child--when determining the "best interests of the child."
Child custody is one of the most important issues in family law. If you have any questions or concerns, it is well worth the time and effort to hire an attorney, particularly one who handles family law. After all, your children are your most important asset and deserve the best from you.