The 1979 Oscar-winning film Kramer vs. Kramer asked whether the mother is automatically the best parent, and why fathers rarely were granted custody in a divorce. It was a question for changing times.
Today, there is little to no legal bias against fathers in custody cases–courts no longer presume the mother to be the better parent. Instead, family courts consider what is in the best interest of the child–and that usually means joint custody. Joint custody allows kids to spend significant time with each parent and maintain meaningful relationships with both.
Laws vary by state to state, but Missouri has been moving to eliminate custody bias in divorce cases. A shared parenting bill became law in 2016, emphasizing a preference for awarding joint custody, but not requiring time be split equally.
A new Missouri House bill introduced in the 2021 legislative session would have granted divorcing parents 50/50 custody by default, as other states have done. The proposed law, which was assigned to committee in the Missouri Senate but went no farther, would have created a presumption of equal or near equal legal custody and parenting time. To alter that, either divorcing party would need to propose a different time arrangement, and a judge would need to approve it.
Similar 50/50 parenting time legislation has been introduced for several years in a row, indicating a move towards eliminating the custody bias that traditionally favored moms over dads. Missouri family courts currently operate on a case-by-case basis, leaving custody and visitation to the discretion of each judge.
States also require that parents submit a parenting plan outlining preferences as to legal custody (decision-making rights) and physical custody (where the child will live), including how holidays and vacations will be divided. Courts look at many factors when determining custody arrangements. Custody agreements may also be modified if conditions change that affect the child’s welfare and it’s deemed in the best interest of the child.
Because each divorce and custody situation is different, consult with your attorney to know where you stand and what to expect in Missouri family courts.
With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact our team today.
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