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In 2018, the State of Missouri, child custody laws changed. The objective was to eliminate the winner versus loser mentality that had previously plagued custody cases in Missouri’s family law courts. Similar to many other states, the Missouri legislature made the changes based on the realization that this type of thinking was harmful to the children at the center of the cases, as well as to the parents involved. This article, presented by The Law Firm of Kenneth L. Jamison, sheds light on how child custody and visitation is determined in Missouri Courts.

How Is Custody Decided in Missouri Courts?

Since the 2018 revision of Missouri’s child custody laws, the State’s policy is that the “best interests of the child” standard is used by Missouri judges in making custody decisions. Missouri law supports the belief that the interests of the child are best served through frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or divorced. The law also encourages parents to participate and work together in making decisions affecting their children’s education, health, and welfare. Under Missouri law, custody is categorized into two types: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody relates to making decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as where the child will go to school, religious affiliations, and non-emergency medical care. Physical custody refers to where the child will live and with whom the child will reside. Each of these categories can be further broken down into joint custody, meaning to both parents, and sole custody, meaning to one parent. Sometimes, a judge grants joint legal custody to both parents, but not joint physical custody. This means that both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions in the child’s life, but the child lives with one parent the majority of the time. Typically the parent who does not have physical custody will have visitation with the child. Alternatively, it is possible for a court to name one parent as the sole legal custodian of a child and grant joint physical custody, which means the legal custodial parent will make the decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. In this scenario the child would reside with each parent for specified periods of time, which can range from a few days a week to months at a time with each parent. The possible outcomes of custody cases are numerous and vary on a case by case basis, depending on each case’s specific facts and differing circumstances. An experienced family law attorney should be consulted if you are considering filing a petition for custody or have a pending custody matter.

Parenting Plans

In Missouri courts, it is preferred when both parents work together to reach an agreement regarding custody arrangements. Parents can reach such an agreement on their own or with the help of their attorneys or with a qualified family law mediator. Under the law, the parents are required to provide a parenting plan to the court, either individually or jointly. The parenting plan addresses legal custody and physical custody issues in detail. Parents are required to follow the parenting plan when they cannot otherwise reach an agreement. The parenting plan is required to contain details that include but are not limited to, the following issues: 1. A detailed schedule regarding custody, visitation, and residential time for each child with each parent, including holidays; 2. The plan for transportation of the child or children associated with the custody, visitation, and residential schedule; 3. The schedule of time where the child can be reached via telephone; 4. Suggested procedures for proper notification in the event one parent wants to request a temporary variation from the custody, visitation, and residential schedule; 5. A specific and detailed plan regarding legal custody which addresses how the decision-making responsibilities will be shared between the parents, which includes extracurricular activities, childcare providers, communication procedures, and a procedure regarding dispute resolution if the parents disagree in the interpretation of the parenting plan. If the parents are unable to reach an acceptable agreement for the parenting plan, the court will step in and make the decision for them. Since each custody case has its own unique set of facts, there isn’t a ready made template for determining what’s in the child’s best interest. A judge will follow the guidelines set forth in Missouri law, and consider relevant factors when evaluating and deciding on a case. These factors include the child’s need for meaningful relationships with both parents, the parents’ wishes, each parents’ willingness and ability to perform their parental functions and duties, the child’s relationship with each parent and with any siblings that may be involved, which parent is more likely to encourage and allow the child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent, either parents’ history of domestic violence, either parents’ wishes to relocate the child, the child’s adjustment to the home, school, or community, and in some cases, depending on the circumstances, the child’s wishes for custody and visitation.


Visitation refers to the time that a non-custodial parent will have with their child. If the court names one parent as the sole physical custodian of the child, they are the custodial parent and the child resides with that parent most of the time. In most custody cases, the non-custodial parent is granted visitation and as mentioned previously, the parenting plan will set forth the schedule of regular and routine visitation, as well as the visitation schedule on holidays. In Missouri, visitation between the non-custodial parent and child is usually unsupervised, unless the court finds that unsupervised visitation would pose a danger to the child’s physical or emotional health and development. The court may order supervised visitation for reasons such as a history of domestic violence or abuse, if a parent has a significant substance abuse problem, or if it’s determined that either parent is unfit or incapable to care for the child properly.

Modifying A Custody Order

Missouri courts prioritize stability for children, but changing a custody order is possible. In order to alter an existing order, the party applying for the modification must show the court that the change is necessary in order to serve the best interests of the child. The applying parent must show that there has been a change in either a parent’s circumstances or the child’s, since the last order. The facts surrounding the change in circumstance will have to be presented to the court for the judge to make a decision on whether an order of modification is warranted.

Consult A Family Law Attorney

If you are considering filing a custody case in Missouri, or if you are a party to a case that has already been filed, contact the Law Firm of Kenneth L. Jamison, located in Liberty, Missouri, for your free consultation. We specialize in family law and we understand that each family and case has its own unique set of facts, circumstances and complexities. The issues that arise in custody cases can be both personally and emotionally challenging. With our firm, you will receive competent and experienced representation to help you navigate the proceedings.

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