The Missouri Court’s Guide to Parenting Plans

“In Your Child’s Best Interest: A Handbook for Separating / Divorcing Parents” is a handbook created by the Missouri Courts system and available online or in print. Among the useful information it contains, the handbook outlines what a Parenting Plan must include and how it can be used. Missouri law requires a parenting plan in all cases of divorce and paternity when there are shared children under the age of 18. 

The purpose of parenting plans

A parenting plan, as the guide explains, “is a written plan of how parents will provide for the care and well-being of their child.” It can serve as a useful roadmap for parents for years to come, a guideline for handling major life decisions concerning their child, and a place to turn to both avoid and resolve many disagreements and improve parent-child relationships.

Typically, the parenting plan must be filed with the court for approval within 30 days after service of the divorce summons, or the filing of an entry of appearance, whichever is first (rules vary by County on the timing of the filing). Parents may submit plans jointly or individually. If no plan is submitted, however, the court will submit it’s own.

Determining “best interests” under Missouri law

The plan must be in accordance with the child’s best interests–that is, one that puts the child’s needs ahead of the parents’ needs and desires. To determine what is in the best interest of the child in each case, courts consider a number of statutory factors. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ custody wishes and the proposed parenting plan 
  • The child’s need for a “frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship” with both parents, along with the both parents’ ability and willingness to provide this care
  • Any history of abuse, neglect or violence in the home
  • The child’s relationships with parents and other members of the family who may affect their best interests  
  • If one parent or the other is more likely to ensure the child has frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with their other parent.
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school, and community

Once the parenting plan is submitted to the court for review and a judge signs off, it is legally binding. Both parents must abide by its guidance. 

What does the plan cover?

Custody and parenting time

Includes legal custody (decision-making rights) and physical custody (a schedule detailing when the child will be with each parent) also includes how holidays and special occasions will be spent; and where and how the child will be transported and exchanged from one parent’s household to the other.

Decision-making rights and responsibilities

Specifies if one or both parents are responsible for decisions about the child’s education, medical and dental needs, daycare provider and so forth, and how the parents will communicate any change of address or contact information. Shared decisions-making and responsibility is the court’s preference, so if the plan states only one parent has decision-making rights, it must also explain why that is in the child’s best interest.

Dispute resolution

Parents should use the court only as a last resort to settle disagreements. The plan should lay out an agreement to work together to resolve disagreements and arguments concerning the child, and to use mediation and/or counseling if they cannot come to an agreement on their own. 

How expenses will be shared/divided

Amount of child support should be included as well as how daycare, insurance premiums, medical and dental expenses, schooling costs and extracurricular activities will be paid. Both parents are responsible for covering costs, but it may make sense for one parent to handle a greater percentage of some  expenses. 

Creating a thorough parenting plan can seem like a daunting task, but having an effective document on hand is well worth the effort. Your divorce attorney can provide guidance and the resources you need to draft a plan that meets all the legal requirements and is in your child’s best interest. 

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.