The state of Missouri recognizes four forms of custody: joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody and sole physical custody. Missouri courts make child custody decisions based on the best interests of the child and they do not give preferential treatment to mothers. The state of Missouri also has legislation about awarding third-party custody if both parents are deemed to be unfit or a danger to their children. Grandparents in Missouri have few visitation rights, but they may be awarded visitation rights under limited circumstances.
Child custody laws in Missouri are intended to create the best possible living conditions for children of divorce. The state of Missouri attempts to give both parents equal parenting time unless this arrangement would not be in the best interest of the child. In determining child custody, the courts will first consider the arrangements made in a parenting plan drafted by both parents. In the absence of a parenting plan, the courts will consider the wishes of both parents, the relationships between the parents, children and siblings, the child's parental preference and the physical and emotional fitness of both parents. A Missouri court will deny custody to parents who have been convicted of or who are believed to have engaged in acts of domestic violence toward anyone in the home or elsewhere, any parent who may have committed acts of abuse or neglect toward minor children, or a parent who has been convicted of certain violent or sexual crimes. Courts also take into consideration the child's education and ties to his community.
Types of Custody and Third-Party Custody
A Missouri court may order joint legal, joint physical, sole legal or sole physical custody. With joint legal custody, both parents may make decisions regarding their children's education or medical treatment and any other legal issues regarding the children. Joint physical custody means that both parents have equal physical time with their children. Sole legal custody means that only one parent may make decisions about the child's education or medical care and they also have access to all relevant records records regarding their children. Sole physical custody means that only one parent has been ordered to have the child in their physical care. Sole legal and physical custody do not mean that the non-custodial parent has no visitation rights with their children. Third-party custody, or custody awarded to someone other than the parents, may be awarded if courts determine that it is in the best interests of the child or children. Reasons that parents may not win custody of their own children are mental illness, substance abuse, a history of physical or emotional abuse or a conviction of a violent or sexual crime.
Missouri custody laws contain very little language about the grandparents' rights. Missouri courts ultimately want parents to make decisions about their children on their own and without interference from courts. A court may grant visitation rights to grandparents for certain reasons: a divorce petition by the child's parents; if one parent is deceased and the surviving parent refuses visitation; if the child lived with the grandparent for a period of at least six months; if the parents are living apart and one parent has denied visitation for a period of 90 days or more; and if a relative adopted the child. Grandparents may also seek visitation rights if the parents were never legally married, and they may file a petition for mediation to help parents come to a reasonable visitation agreement with the grandparents. A court might order a home study and may also consider the child's opinion about grandparent visitation. If a child is adopted, grandparents lose their rights to request visitation.