A “Parenting Plan” is a written document that describes, in detail, the custody arrangements you and your spouse are to follow with regard to your children, when you are divorced. Missouri requires Parenting Plans for children under the age of 18; however, the form and required content may vary drastically from county (or city) to county. While many jurisdictions require a plan to be in place, it is very important to understand that you and your spouse may agree to follow different rules from the ones set out in the parenting plan – IF YOU BOTH AGREE. If you do not agree, the purpose of the parenting plan is to clearly set out your rights and obligations with regard to your children. The plans usually contain a specific schedule of custody times and a guide for parents to direct them in the decision-making process that is necessary when divorced parents are raising children.
In Missouri, a parenting plan may include the court’s orders regarding two types of child custody. Legal Custody refers to the major decision-making for the child (medical, religious, educational, etc.). Physical Custody refers to the arrangements as to where the child will live and what the schedule will be for each parent. Legal and physical custody can be joint (shared by the parents) or one parent can be granted sole custody. The basis for determining child custody is what is in the “best interests of the child.” Child custody orders are always modifiable. The court will consider the time the child has lived in a stable custodial environment, and what is in the best interests of the child. It should be remembered that the child’s preference, though an important factor, is just one factor to be considered in the factors cited above.