Under Missouri family law, a judge should not show bias to either parent based on gender, meaning a father has the same rights to his child as a mother does. Dads in Missouri have the same ability as moms to petition the court for child custody, visitation and child support. In any court case involving a child, the judge must make a decision based on what is in the child's best interests.
Missouri Custody Laws
Child custody laws in Missouri are governed under 2005 Missouri Statutes 452.375.
There are two types of custody of a child: legal and physical. Legal custody concerns issues and decisions involved in raising a child such as education, religious beliefs, health issues and overall welfare. Physical custody determines how much time the child lives with the parent during each year. There's a difference between equal physical custody and joint physical custody, i.e., the child does not have to spend equal amounts of time with each parent for one to have joint physical custody.
Depending on what is deemed to be in the best interests of the child, the court may make an order for joint legal and physical custody by both parents, joint legal custody by both parents and physical custody by a sole parent, joint physical custody by both parents and sole legal custody by one parent, or sole legal and physical custody by one parent.
Fathers' Rights in Missouri
While some states still adhere to guidelines pertaining to the traditional gender-specific roles of a mother and father and what is expected of each (e.g., child-rearing vs. breadwinner), Missouri is one of a growing number of states that adopts a more gender-neutral approach to family law, while recognizing non-traditional family structures. The legal position concerning child custody in Missouri is that the courts must pursue joint legal and physical custody that is as close to 50/50 as possible. If there is any deviation from the 50/50 guideline, the court must explain in detail the reasons.
When determining to whom to award custody and whether it is sole custody or joint custody, the judge considers many factors, including the wishes of the parents and their proposed parenting plans, the child's need to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, as well as the parents' willingness and abilities to facilitate that, the interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings and others who may impact the child's best interests, and any history of abuse, as well as the mental and physical health of all parties. The wishes of the child are also taken into account.
Unmarried Fathers' Rights in Missouri
Custody cannot be enforced regarding a child born to unmarried parents until a paternity judgment has been validated by the court. This requires a paternity test and establishes the man as the legal father of the child.
Once a paternity judgment has been granted, the father has equal rights to the child as do married fathers, including equal access to and decision-making for the child. When a paternity judgement is granted, it's standard for a parenting plan to be created to document the obligations and rights of the father for his child.
Applying for Child Custody in Missouri
The first step in a child custody case in Missouri is to file a Petition for Custody with the Circuit Court in the county in which you live, or in which your spouse or your child's other parent lives.
If you want sole custody of a child, you must prepare documentation showing why having sole custody is in the best interests of your child, including reasons and documentation demonstrating that the other parent is a potential threat to the child, or is not capable of caring for the child. You must also show how you can support the child financially, physically and emotionally without the involvement of the other parent.
Before a child custody order is made, a parenting plan must be created and approved by the court. This document states whether or not both parents have legal and/or physical custody of the child. It also sets out visitation rights and times and child support requirements and amounts.