By Alan Freed
Each state has its own set of laws that describe how courts are to come up with plans for caring for children of divorcing families. In Missouri, the law uses the terms “custody” and “visitation.” Here are a few important facts:
An order that describes how the children’s care will be handled is called a “parenting plan.” The parenting plan includes orders dealing with how decisions are made, how the children’s time will be shared between the parents, and how the children’s financial needs will be met.
The decision-making arrangements are called “legal custody.” If parents share “joint legal custody,” then they will need to consult with one another and agree upon the major decisions for the children, which will typically include medical care (including counseling), education, daycare, extracurricular activities, summer camps, and religious training. If one parent is given “sole legal custody,” then that parent has the ultimate say on those major issues. It is important to remember, however, that most decisions parents make are not major. These minor decisions include such things as bedtimes, what movies and TV shows are appropriate, playtime activities, meal choices, and a host of others. A parent who has the children in his or her care will generally be able to make those kinds of decisions without consulting with the other parent.
The other aspect of child custody is “physical custody,” which describes the schedule for sharing the children’s care. It’s a way of determining which parent is “on duty” and which is “off duty” at any particular time. The physical custody schedule, often referred to as a “residential schedule,” tells the parents when the children are in each parent’s care during the week, on weekends, on holidays, and during vacations. Although physical custody can be described as “sole” or “joint,” the distinction between those two has faded over the years. Even if the parents do not have equal time with the children, the arrangement can still be described as joint physical custody. The name is not important; the schedule is.
The only term I haven’t discussed is “visitation.” Although this term is used in the child custody statute, it is never defined. Visitation usually describes the rights that a parent has when the children spend most of their time with the other parent. Visitation can be “supervised,” which means that a parent has to have some other adult present when spending time with the children. This is rarely imposed, and is only used where a parent is shown not to be able to take care of the children responsibly, perhaps because of a history of physical abuse or because the parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Parenting arrangements require careful consideration and should be discussed in detail with an experienced family law attorney. The attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. can assist you in these matters.