In matters of child custody, Missouri law is very clear that the overriding consideration is what, is in the best interests of the child. In determining this, the Court looks at a number of factors including the home conditions, educational requirements, special needs of the child, and relationships with mom and dad. In some circumstances, if the child is old enough the court can take into consideration the child’s wishes as to custody.
Child Custody Considerations: Physical and Legal Custody
In child custody cases, there are two key aspects of the child’s custody that must be decided. One aspect is whether the parents will share joint legal custody or if one parent will be awarded sole legal custody. At a very basic level, legal custody involves decision making rights for the child regarding education, religion, and medical care to name a few. Courts generally assume that parents will share joint legal custody unless one parent is deemed unable or unfit to participate in these key decisions. If that is the case, the court may award one parent sole legal custody. A parent seeking sole legal custody has the burden of proving that the other parent is unfit or unable to share legal custody.
The second key aspect of child custody to be decided is physical custody. This is just what it sounds like, “how much time the child will spend with each parent.” Again here, Missouri courts assume that parents will share joint physical custody unless a parent is deemed unfit or unable to do so. Joint physical custody does not mean that parents will share and equal amount of time with their child under the custody plan. Is simply means that either parent is capable of exercising (or fit to exercise) physical custody. In reality, there are many different variations of custody agreements that get ordered in Missouri family law cases either by agreement of the parties or by order of the court.
Allegations of Unfitness of a Parent in Custody Cases
If either parent makes allegations that the other parent is unfit to exercise joint legal or physical custody the court will appoint a guardian ad litem (an attorney to represent the child) to investigate the allegations of unfitness. The court can order a guardian ad litem be appointed on its own motion if the judge feels that either parent is unfit. Either way, contested issues regarding child custody are complex. You should hire an experienced custody attorney like Attorney Nate W. Hartung, and The Hartung Law Firm, LLC to help you with your case. Our experienced family law attorneys and staff can provide top notch legal service and reduce the stress on you as you move forward to exercise your right to custody.
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