Child Custody

Child custody and visitation between the parents is typically one of the most contested
and difficult issues with any family law case and understandably so given the emotional
bond each parent has with their child(ren). In making any custody and visitation decisions
the courts are always looking to the best interests of the child in making their final
determination.

With any case involving children there are two types of custody that will be addressed:
Physical & Legal Custody.

Physical Custody
Physical custody is exactly as it sounds, it states which parent has physical custody of
the child(ren) on any given day throughout the year. Physical custody is outlined in a
document called the parenting plan which is part of every family law judgment. Each
parenting plan will typically break down custody and visitation to periods throughout
the year including the school year, summer months, holidays, vacation periods and other
special days. Physical custody is also broken down further to joint physical custody and
sole physical custody.

Joint & Sole Physical Custody
Joint physical custody means that both parents will normally have significant
visitation with the child(ren). Sole physical custody typically indicates that one
parent retains the majority of custody. It is important to also know that whether
your have joint or sole physical custody of your child(ren) you could still have
significant or limited visitation. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean
you will have an equal or fifty/fifty schedule. Equally sole physical custody does
not dictate that you will not have significant visitation time with your child(ren).
Each case is family law case is unique and requires a custody schedule that is in
the child’s best interests.

Legal Custody
Legal custody entails the right to make important decisions affecting the growth and
development of your child including but not limited to education, religion, medical
decisions. Joint legal custody means both parents need to discuss these decisions
together and make a final decision jointly. Sole legal custody means that the mother or
father individually has the right to make these decisions independently without the other
parent’s approval. Legal custody does not mean you are completely independent of the
other parent and regardless of mother or father having sole legal custody you still need to
discuss these decisions with the other parent to keep them informed about the child’s life.

Common Visitation Schedules
Visitation, sometimes called parenting time, can take a variety of forms or schedules.
Some common arrangements include the following:

• Alternate weekend visitation with the non-custodial parent, sometimes Friday
and/or Monday, as well as Saturday and Sunday. Add Monday federal holidays
(Labor Day, Memorial Day, President’s Day, etc.) to weekend visitation.
• Midweek visitation, either for dinner or sometimes overnights.
• Sharing longer blocks of time with the child during school vacations, such as
winter break, spring break and summers.
• Dividing and/or alternating major holidays, such as New Year’s, Easter, July 4th,
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
• Mother’s Day with Mother, Father’s Day with Father, and dividing or alternating
the child’s birthday.
• Regular telephone contact (and/or e-mail contact) by the parent who does not
have actual physical custody of the child.
• Exchange of a few days of visitation here and there as mutually agreed, without
the need for a change or modification of the court order.

It is important to remember that each case is unique and there is no set schedule that the
family courts use for every case. Courts in the St. Louis area will examine the facts and
circumstances of each case to determine a schedule that is best for the child(ren) and
parents in that particular case.

Relocation
Given the mobility of our society any relocation, no matter how short of a distance
can impact your custody arrangements and affect your existing visitation schedule. In
Missouri, notice of a proposed relocation of any party entitled to custody or visitation
must be given in writing, by certified mail at least 60 days in advance of the proposed
relocation. This notice must contain specific information regarding the new address,
date of intended move, a statement of the reasons for the relocation and a revised
custody/visitation schedule. These notice requirements may only be waived to the extent
necessary to protect the health or safety of the child or other adult. Once proper notice
has been given, the relocation may occur, unless a parent files a motion asking the court
to prevent it within 60 days after receiving the notice. The court will only approve any
proposed relocation if it is made in good faith and is in the child’s best interest. Often
these relocation proposals can result in litigation and modification of your existing family
court judgment.

Grandparent’s Visitation Rights
Missouri grants reasonable visitation rights to grandparents under a variety of
circumstances. Some of these include when the parents of the child have filed for divorce,
in which case, the grandparents actually intervene as parties to the proceedings solely
on the issue of visitation rights. Likewise, grandparents also have the right to seek the
modification of a prior divorce decree to seek visitation rights that have been denied
to them. Grandparents can also enforce their visitation rights in court when one parent
of the child is deceased and the surviving parent denies reasonable visitation rights; or
simply when grandparents are unreasonably denied visitation with the child for a period
exceeding 90 days.

Do the child’s wishes have any effect on custody decisions?
Yes. Under Missouri law, the child’s wishes are one of many factors the court considers.
Typically, the older the child, the more weight his or her wishes carry in affecting
custody decisions. However there is no specific age where the child is allowed to dictate
where he or she chooses to reside and the judge is not obligated to follow the child’s
wishes regarding custody or visitation.

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