The State of Missouri does not automatically award custody to mothers. In fact, Missouri operates under the presumption that fathers have joint custody and will grant sole custody to a father if it is deemed best for the child. Therefore, fathers seeking to enjoy productive relationships with their children must understand their rights under Missouri laws on custody, child support, paternity and visitation.
A father seeking custody of his child can apply for legal custody or physical custody. Legal custody permits fathers to make important decisions regarding the welfare of their child. For example, a father granted legal custody can participate in deciding where his child will attend school, and can help decide matters of discipline and after-school activities. Conversely, physical custody allows fathers to have physical possession of their child, meaning the child resides with him. A father who has his child the majority of the time has the right to seek sole custody. Additionally, based on section 475.352 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, a father cannot be denied any form of custody because of his age, financial status, or sex of the child.
Child Support and Paternity
In Missouri, a custodial parent can seek child support through filing a petition for support or a divorce. In instances in which a father and mother have a child out of wedlock, a "Petition for Declaration of Paternity" can be filed. A father must file a paternity case, which includes receiving a paternity test, to get custody or visitation of his child. Fathers who have no interest in seeking visitation or custodial rights should still file a paternity case. This is because under Missouri law, mothers can file a lawsuit for child support and paternity and be awarded up to five years of retroactive child support. Paternity tests are ordered by the court under the Petition for Declaration of Paternity.
Under Missouri law, visitation and child support are considered separate and distinct. As such, fathers may be ordered to pay child support and not receive visitation. Visitation rights establish the terms by which a father can spend time with his child. These terms specify the days of the week, times, and even places that a father can be with his child. Section 452.400 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states that a "parent not granted custody of the child is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless the court finds, after a hearing, that visitation would endanger the child's physical health or impair his or her emotional development. Also, under these statutes, fathers can file a motion for contempt if their court-ordered visitation rights are restricted or impeded.