In our experience, child custody is the most litigated aspect of Missouri divorces. The court determines which parent shall receive custody of a child or children by determining what the court believes is in the best interests of the child. Custody and visitation rights, also, must be ordered in a manner that best protects the child. The following topics give a summary of the main issues involved in a contested child custody battle. At Cope Litigation & Transactions LC, we fight hard to prove to the court what is in the best interests of your child and to protect your rights as a parent.
"Child custody" generally means joint or sole legal custody and joint or sole physical custody. "Joint legal custody" means that the mother and father share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education and welfare of the child; the parents confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority. "Joint physical custody" means that the mother and father both have significant — but not necessarily equal — periods of time during which a child resides with each of the parents.
The court considers many relevant factors, including the wishes of the child's parents as to custody and the needs of the child for a meaningful relationship with both parents. The court also reviews the relationship of the child with the parents and siblings and the child's adjustment to the child’s home, school and community. Often the mental and physical health of the parents — including any history of mental, emotional and physical or sexual abuse of any individuals involved — can be important factors for the court to review. Other factors that the court may consider are the intentions of either parent to relocate the residence of the child and last, but not least, the wishes of a child as to whether the child lives with the mother or father.
If a mother or father is not granted physical custody of the child, that parent — the non-custodial parent — is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless the court determines that the parent’s visitation would endanger the child's physical health or impair his or her emotional development. The court enters an order in the form of aparenting plan, which specifically details the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. In certain cases, the court may order that the non-custodial parent receive only “supervised visitation” with the child. “Supervised visitation” is visitation that takes place in the presence of a responsible adult appointed by the court for the protection of the child.
In all cases involving child custody, the court will order a parenting plan that sets forth the living arrangements that the court believes are in the best interests of the child. The parenting plan schedules specific custody, visitation and residential time for the child to be with each parent. The parenting plan also includes a specific written plan regarding legal custody which details how the decision-making rights and responsibilities will be shared between the mother and father. In addition, the plan will set forth the child support amount to be paid by each party.
In a divorce where child custody is a contested issue, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem for the child. The guardian ad litem is an attorney who represents the child at any court hearing. The guardian ad litem can interview any persons having contact with or knowledge of the child. Often, the guardian ad litem meets with the child to determine the child’s wishes, feelings, attachments and attitudes. At trial, the guardian ad litem may examine, cross-examine, subpoena witnesses and offer testimony, including the guardian ad litem’s own testimony and recommendations, as to who should receive custody of the child. The recommendation of the guardian ad litem is given great weight by the court.
Based in Springfield, Missouri, child custody attorney Jack Cope represents parents throughout Southwest Missouri in child custody matters before, during and after divorce. He advocates for the rights of his clients and their children to custody arrangements that ensure a child's well-being and appropriate time with each parent. We welcome you to contact Cope Litigation & Transactions for a consultation about your child custody issue.