Many prospective clients we meet with have preconceived notions regarding custody in divorce or paternity cases. People will often say they want sole custody or joint custody in a prospective family law matter. This blog is the first in a series intended to give the readers a review of custody terminology under Missouri law and how it may relate to your specific case.
Section 452.375 is the main custody statute that family court commissioners and judges use when making a contested custody decision. Under Missouri law, the word “custody” means joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody, or sole physical custody, or any combination of those terms. It is important to know the legal definitions of joint legal and joint physical custody because the court must first consider a parenting plan with the parents exercising joint custody.
Joint legal custody means that the parents share the decision making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child. Unless allocated, apportioned or decreed differently by the court, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision making rights, responsibilities, and authority.
Parents who exercise joint legal custody are to have an equal voice regarding major decisions that affect their children. If the parents agree on the decision, the decision is made. If the parents confer but continue to disagree regarding an important decision affecting their children, they may need to resort to the assistance of a parent coordinator, mediator, or some other form of dispute resolution prior to the decision being made.
Joint physical custody means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily, equal periods of time during which the child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way to assure the child a frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents. Many people assume that if they have joint physical custody that means each child spends equal time with both parents. Often, that is not the case. So long as a court finds that the amount of time awarded to each parent assures the child frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents, the custody time each parent receives through a parenting plan does not have to be equal.
The court is obligated to designate the residence of one of the parents as the address of the child for mailing and educational purposes. So long as that is done in a joint physical custody plan, neither parent is designated as the “primary” or “residential” parent.
The next article will explain the differences between joint legal custody and sole legal custody joint physical custody and sole physical custody. Stay tuned….