Legal Updates

Missouri Child Custody: Part II – Physical Custody

This is part 2 of our child custody series this week. In case you missed Part 1, you can read about Missouri Child Custody Part 1: Legal Custody here.

Under Missouri law when the issue of child custody is decided by a court the specific issues of legal custody and physical custody will be addressed.  Legal custody deals with the issue of which parent will be in charge of the decision making for the child and is discussed more fully in Part I.  The issue of physical custody deals with which parent the child lives with.  Each type of custody will be defined more specifically as joint custody or sole custody.

Joint Physical custody means that the child resides with both parents.  A finding that joint custody shall be ordered does not mean that the child will spend equal time at each parent’s residence.  In the simplest terms, joint physical custody means each parent is awarded significant time to reside with and be in the care and custody of the child.  Joint custody shall be awarded in a way as to assure each parent frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the child.  Joint physical custody is by far the most common form of physical custody awarded by courts in Missouri.

Sole physical custody means that the one parent is awarded substantially more custody than the other.  An award of sole physical custody to one parent does not mean the non-custodial parent will not see the child.  Frequent, continuing and meaningful visitation with the non-custodial parent should be awarded as the facts of the case allow. Sole physical custody is frequently ordered in cases where there is abuse or neglect by one parent, or where one parent for whatever reason is unable to care for the child as a physical custodian because of mental or physical issues.

When deciding the issue of physical custody of the child, the court will base the decision on what is in the best interests of the child based upon all of the evidence.   Factors the court will consider are the wishes of the parents, the needs of the child, the child’s interactions and relationships with each parent and other family members, which parent is the most likely to allow frequent continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent, the living environment of each parent, including either parent’s intent to relocate their residence, the mental and physical health of all parties and the children and finally the wishes of the child (assuming the child is old enough to intelligently voice an opinion).

This is just a brief summary of the child custody law in Missouri.  It is not intended to be legal advice.  Each case is unique and it is best to consult a Missouri attorney to find out how the law should apply to any particular case.