How Does a Judge Determine Child Custody?

Child Custody

Child custody is commonly one of the most important issues facing a parent in a divorce or paternity case. You will understandably want to ensure that your relationship with your child is not compromised due to the need for separate households. If you and your spouse cannot agree on how custody and visitation should be arranged, the issue will go before a family court judge for a determination.

This is commonly one of the toughest decisions a judge will be required to make. The decision can have an impact on the lives of both you and your children for years to come. It can make custody and parenting time an equal proposition, limit one parent in decision-making, time, and access to a child, or bar a parent from any contact whatsoever. Each situation is determined on a case-by-case basis and judges have wide latitude in the matter. However, they are guided by the operating principle of what is in the child’s best interests and by Missouri law, which lays out various factors for consideration in any custody case.

What Does Missouri Law Say About Child Custody?

Most family courts favor joint custody for children because it allows the child to have a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents. This is deemed to be the ideal. However, every case is different, and courts must evaluate those differences as they apply to Missouri law on the subject.

Revised Missouri State Chapter 452.375 lays out the factors that must be reviewed and weighed in any Missouri custody decision by judges. Judges, however, will examine all factors relevant to the issue whether they fall under these guidelines or not.

The factors included under the law include:

  1. Your wishes concerning custody and the terms of the parenting plan you have submitted to the court. If you and your spouse have worked something out as a parenting plan and custody arrangement that is in the best interest of your children, the judge will likely run with it.
  2. The needs of your child regarding the maintenance of a continuing and meaningful relationship with both you and your spouse and your ability to fulfill those needs. Judges prefer that your child continue to be parented by both a mother and a father (or co-parents in a same-sex relationship).
  3. Your child’s interactions and relationship with you, his or her brothers and sisters, and anyone else who may play a part in what is in the child’s best interests. If you have a particularly close and strong relationship with your child, the judge may take this into consideration above other factors.
  4. Whether you as a parent will be amenable to helping foster your child’s relationship with your spouse. If the judge finds that you have interfered with the relationship your child has with your spouse, it will likely work against you. Interference could mean both physically not allowing your child to see your spouse, making negative remarks about him or her, or otherwise degrading the relationship.
  5. How your child has adjusted to home, school, and the community and how a substantial change in this matter may affect the child.
  6. Your physical and mental health as well as that of your child and your spouse. A crucial health concern for a parent or a child may influence how custody should be arranged.
  7. Whether you have any intentions of relocating your child to another city or state and how this will affect the other factors.
  8. Your child’s wishes on the matter if he or she is old enough to understand and have a preference. This factor will obviously be based on the child’s level of maturity.

Any history of domestic violence or prolonged substance abuse on the part of you or your spouse will impact a judge’s decision as well. Family courts are tasked with keeping individuals and children safe from family abuse. An abusive parent will likely lose his or her custody rights and may be granted only limited and/or supervised contact with a child or may be barred from any contact whatsoever.

Understanding your parental rights and how best to approach the matter of child custody is vital. Because every case has its own set of circumstances, you should consult with your divorce attorney. At Galmiche Law Firm, P.C., we have handled divorce and family law cases for decades, giving us a deep understanding on how custody decisions are made by local judges.

Schedule a consultation through our Contact Page or by calling us at (636) 552-4841 today.

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