Missouri Law Summary: Understanding the Pros and Cons of Joint Custody

Below is some Missouri law on child custody (and joint custody in particular). This summary includes some relevant statutes and applicable case law. These are just some examples of reported cases on this topic.

Because the facts of every circumstance is different, it is vital to consult with an attorney regarding any particular circumstance. However, this summary does help provide some important information on this topic.

1. Statutes:

RSMo. § 452.375. 1. As used in this chapter, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

(1) "Custody" means joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody or sole physical custody or any combination thereof;

(2) "Joint legal custody" means that the parents share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education and welfare of the child, and, unless allocated, apportioned, or decreed, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority;

(3) "Joint physical custody" means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents;

RSMo. § 452.375.4

4. The general assembly finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state that frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage is in the best interest of the child, except for cases where the court specifically finds that such contact is not in the best interest of the child, and that it is the public policy of this state to encourage parents to participate in decisions affecting the health, education and welfare of their children, and to resolve disputes involving their children amicably through alternative dispute resolution. In order to effectuate these policies, the court shall determine the custody arrangement which will best assure both parents participate in such decisions and have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with their children so long as it is in the best interests of the child.

RSMo. § 452.375.5(1)

5. Prior to awarding the appropriate custody arrangement in the best interest of the child, the court shall consider each of the following as follows:

(1) Joint physical and joint legal custody to both parents, which shall not be denied solely for the reason that one parent opposes a joint physical and joint legal custody award. The residence of one of the parents shall be designated as the address of the child for mailing and educational purposes;

2. Relevant Case Law

LaRocca v. LaRocca, 135 S.W.3d 522 (Mo. App. 2004): "We begin by noting that the statute does not use the phrase 'primary physical custody.' RSMo § 452.375.1(1) defines 'custody' as 'joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody or sole physical custody or any combination thereof.' Because the parties understand the award here to be one of sole physical custody to the husband, and the wife has appealed on this basis, we also shall view the trial court's denomination of 'primary physical custody' as one of sole physical custody."

"Joint physical custody does not require an equal amount of time with each parent...[T]he determining factor in classifying physical custody arrangements as either joint or sole is whether the periods of physical custodial time awarded to the parents is deemed 'significant.'"

"[A]lthough the trial court named the husband primary physical custodian, the award is actually one of joint physical custody because the wife was awarded care of the children for significant periods totaling approximately 43 percent of the time and a higher percentage of time in the summer."

3. Some Pros and Cons To Joint Custody:

Pros of Joint Custody

1. Joint legal and physical custody enables both parents to be a part of the child's life.

2. Joint legal custody allows both parents to take part in making important decisions that affect the child's life.

3. Joint custody makes sure that the responsibility of the child does not fall onto just one parent.

3. Both parents might be able to build an amicable relationship through taking care of the child.

4. The child benefits from having both parents around. Parents, who are able to cooperatively work at taking care of their child despite being divorced or living apart, can positively influence how the child behaves.

Cons of Joint Custody

1. Parents who are not able to work together often have great difficulties with joint custody on an array of issues.

2. Joint physical custody results in the child going back and forth between two residences frequently versus having one home where they live predominately.

3. If both parents do not live close to each, school can be difficult from a transportation perspective.

4. Children may get caught up in the middle of arguments.

Apart from these examples above, you can find out more information about child custody, view informational custody videos, go to our custody glossary and read about creating a parenting plan.