Last year the Missouri Legislature passed legislation that made several changes to the way visitation and custody is awarded in Missouri. The complete affect of the new law is somewhat unknown, but it should create a greater probability for both parents to have closer to 50/50 shared visitation time with their children in divorce and other custody matters. The standard for determining custody and visitation time in Missouri is the “best interest of the child”. It is also the public policy of the state that the best interest of the child includes frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents. The new custody and visitation law will expand the presumption in favor of a court awarding both parents joint custody in Missouri.
New Missouri Custody Law
If parents in a divorce or other custody matter do not agree as to custody and parenting time, a trial is usually required. The judges in Missouri courts generally have a lot of discretion in determining custody and parenting time in divorce and other types of custody cases. I have handled hundreds of custody and visitation matters including over 100 contested trials in Missouri Courts. I have found that the same set of fact patterns in various custody and visitation cases can yield widely different results depending on the judge. Some judges will create a parenting time allowing for 50/50 time between parents as their default ruling and other judges will give one parent a much greater share of visitation with the children. Many times a judge will give the non-custodial parent visitation every other weekend, which can amount to only four nights of visitation per month.
The new law will require that the judge make written findings of fact and conclusions of the law as to the factors in determining custody and parenting time. Courts will not be allowed to adopt standardized or default parenting plans for their parenting time orders and judgments. This should require more reflection and consideration before one parent has their parenting time restricted by the courts.
Factors Courts Must Consider with Parenting Time and Custody in Missouri
The main factors that Courts in Missouri must consider to determine custody and parenting time include:
- Both parents parenting plan and best wishes for the child.
- Emotional needs of the child.
- The child’s own wishes.
- Relocation plans of the parents.
- Parents’ wants for the child to have a strong relationship with the other parent.
- History of abuse or neglect.
- Physical and mental well-being of everyone involved.
The new law requires the courts to explain in their divorce or other type of custody judgments how a parent can apply for a family access motion if the other parent keeps the child away from them.
Call Day or Night for a Missouri Family Law Attorney
The new custody and visitation law does not require courts to give parents equal time with their children in contested divorce and other custody cases. However; the new law could result in more courts beginning with a presumption of equal time unless specific facts make equal time unreasonable. If you have any questions about how the new child custody and visitation laws in Missouri could affect you, contact attorney Chris Benjamin at KC Road Lawyers by calling 816-738-5725 or navigating to our contact page for a consultation at the firm’s Belton or Butler Missouri offices.