Many parents are confused about the various custody issues which are determined by the Court at the time of a divorce or a paternity action. Parents who married have these issues determined after they separate in a divorce or dissolution action, parents who did not marry will have these issues determined during a paternity action.
Other than the issue of child support which will not be discussed in this post, there are at least three custody issues which are considered and eventually determined by the Court in every case: (1) Legal custody, (2) physical custody, and (3) residential parent status. I will briefly explain each of these below.
The controlling factor in the Court’s decision making for all of these issues is legally required to be what the Court determines to be in the best interests of the child or children involved.
Missouri law starts out with the presumption that most children are best served by having substantial and continuing contact with both parents. Of course, this presumption can be offset by proof that contact with one of the parents or both of the parents could be physically or emotionally harmful to the child or children. Significant proof is usually required for a court to determine that contact with one or the other parent will be harmful to the children.
Legal custody is basically a designation of which parent or parents will make the major decisions in the child or children’s life. What school will the child or children attend? What doctor will he or she go to? What church will the child or children attend? Will he or she go to summer camp? What day care or baby sitter will be used? What courses will the child or children take in school? Unless the Court order or parenting plan more specifically specifies any of these decisions to one parent or the other, the decisions will be made by the parent or parents with legal custody. A court order granting joint legal custody of the children requires the parents to make these decisions in concert, with both parents reaching an agreement on each decision.
Physical custody, just as it sounds, is a determination of which parent will have the child or children with them on what days of the week, month or year. Often parenting plans or Court Orders pertaining to physical custody are specific enough to designate the exact hour of pickup and delivery of the child or children, location of the custody exchange, and which parent pays any expenses associated with that exchange of the children including transportation costs for the child. Transportation expense can become an extremely contentious issue when parents live a significant distance apart necessitating the purchase of airplane tickets etc.
Residential parent status determines which parent’s home address will be used for registration of the child or children in the public school system or for any other educational purpose, and which parent’s home address will be used for mailing things to the child or children. Sometimes the issue of the child’s home address is also a determining factor in private school eligibility for attendance as in the case of parochial schools. It may also effect which state university can be attended by the college age child at the “in state” tuition rate.
As in all matters pertaining to children, the ideal situation is when the parents can reach an agreement between them as to what will be in the best interests of their children on these and other issues.
In almost all court cases the custody rights discussed above will be granted to the natural or adoptive parents of the child or children in question. Under certain circumstances however, the Court could make a determination that a third party should be granted legal or physical custody of the children in question.
Our law firm has over 38 years of experience assisting our clients with child custody issues in the Jefferson County Missouri court system. If you believe we can be of assistance to you in a child custody or any other legal matter please call our office at (636) 937-4994.