Most parents treasure their children and want the absolute best for them in the future. When parents are in the process of divorcing, the issue of child custody may be one of particular concern and anxiety. Sensitive child custody issues also arise in situations where the parents have never been married and are working to establish custody and visitation.
The Legal Standards
When deciding child custody matters, Missouri law focuses on the best interests of the child. A number of factors play into this determination including:
- The wishes of the child's parents as to child custody
- The importance of the child's relationship with each parent
- The child's relationship with siblings and other individuals important in the child's life
- The child's connection and adjustment to their home, school and community
- The mental and physical health of everyone involved
- The child's wishes if they are old enough to express them
Courts make determinations both as to physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child usually lives. The parent that the child primarily resides with is called the custodial parent. The other parent has visitation with the child and is called the non-custodial parent.
Legal custody is the power to make important decisions in the child's upbringing like education, religion and healthcare. Generally parents share joint legal custody unless there are special concerns related to a parent such as abuse, mental stability, or alcohol or drug use.
Steps to Take
If you are involved in a custody dispute, or expect to be facing one in the future, there are several issues you may want to consider and steps you may want to take to prepare.
- Missouri courts require parents to submit a proposed parenting plan in all custody matters. When working to create a parenting plan make sure you are focusing on the best interests of your child and not on issues between you and your co-parent.
- Carefully consider the age and needs of your child. For instance, young children more likely need a stable routine and lots of time with parents, whereas teenagers may require more flexibility and independence.
- If you anticipate a custody battle keep a journal to document any incidents with the other parent and child along with any other useful information. Focus on issues related to the best interests of the child.
It is also important for anyone facing a custody dispute to hire an attorney experienced in child custody matters. An experienced family law attorney can provide information about your legal rights and advocate on your behalf.