Issues related to children are some of the most emotionally charged aspects of a separation or divorce. Parents might have strong differences of opinion about what is best for their children.
Children usually find divorce to be disruptive and scary, even if you and your co-parent are mostly on the same page. Both parents must work hard to keep their children’s well-being foremost in their discussions. Working with an attorney that has broad experience in custody issues could help negotiations proceed as smoothly as possible.
Contact a Des Peres child custody lawyer if you have children and are considering divorce. A compassionate legal professional from our firm could help you understand your rights and achieve the most favorable outcome possible for your kids. We will fight to ensure that your children’s best interests will be protected and served no matter what happens. Reach out to Jones Family Law Group, LLC today to discuss child custody matters with a member of our team.
Common Child Custody Terms
If you and your spouse are working on child custody issues, understanding the meanings of certain terms is critical. For example, legal custody means making major decisions regarding the child’s healthcare, education, religion, and similar issues. Physical custody means where the child lives and the custody schedule. Parenting time used to be called visitation, which is the time the parent without primary physical custody spends with the child. Another outdated term in Missouri is “primary custody.”
Parents with joint legal custody make major decisions about their children together. Parents with joint physical custody each spend significant time with the children. You and your spouse can have joint physical custody even if the time you spend with the children is unequal. Practical issues like a parent’s work schedule and the proximity of the parents’ homes to the children’s schools and activities could make a 60/40 or 70/30 split of time more feasible.
A parent could seek sole legal custody, but courts rarely award it unless one parent proves the other is unfit, significantly mentally ill, or a substance abuser. A parent could also seek sole physical custody of the children, or even request that all visits be supervised with the other parent. The law presumes that children benefit when they have significant contact with both parents, and both parents should participate in major decisions. Seeking sole legal or sole physical custody requires a skilled and experienced custody attorney.
Best Interests of the Children
Courts prefer it when parents are able to work together to devise a parenting plan that will work for their children and their family. If you and your spouse cannot agree, each of you will submit a parenting plan to the court, and the judge will select one or the judge will craft one of his or her own. However, even if you and your spouse have a plan and agree to it, a judge still has to approve it.
The law requires judges to evaluate all issues regarding children according to their best interests. Missouri Revised Statute §452.375(2) requires the court to consider multiple factors when determining whether a parenting plan meets the children’s best interests, including:
- The age, physical condition, and mental health of you and your spouse and each child
- Each child’s relationship with you and your spouse
- Whether a child has special physical, emotional, or educational needs, and each parent’s ability to meet those needs
- How involved each parent has been in the child’s day-to-day life, education, and activities
- You and your spouse’s ability and willingness to support the other parent’s relationship with the children
- Any history of substance abuse, domestic violence, child neglect, or other safety issues
The judge could also consider the child’s preferences if they are old enough or mature enough to express their opinions. However, the judge must ultimately base their decision on the child’s best interests rather than their preference. In Missouri, there is no magic age where a child has the right to decide where they live.
If a parent gets sole physical custody, the parent without custody almost always retains the right to visitation. Visitation might be limited; for example, the parent might be barred from having the children overnight or even bringing them to their home. A family member, social worker, or other professional might supervise the visits if there are safety or other concerns. During a consultation, a Des Peres attorney from our firm could explain how visitation might work in a specific child custody case.
Learn More from a Des Peres Child Custody Attorney
During a divorce, issues related to your children can understandably be difficult to discuss and settle. A Des Peres child custody lawyer could guide you through the process, which could help reduce the stress and help you and your co-parent reach an agreement. If a judge must decide custody, an attorney from our firm could ensure the judge recognizes the value of your relationship with your children.
You do not have to manage custody issues alone. Our team at Jones Family Law Group, LLC is here to help you protect yourself and your relationship with your children. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.