Missouri statutes and case law requires that the judge must decide the custody and visitation concerning children when that issue comes before them. The general rule that applies in the judge making that decision is what in the best interest of the child. Missouri law breaks down the issues relating to custody of children in “legal custody” and “physical custody”. Legal custody relates to making important decision in regarding to raising children. Physical custody relates to where the child lives.
There is a one statute which provides that “it is the public policy of this state to encourage parents to participate in decisions affecting the health, education and welfare of their children.” This is interpreted that it is the policy of our state to presume “joint legal custody”. It is the policy of Missouri to prefer joint legal custody of children, where both parents participate in important decisions, unless that would not in the children’s best interest.
There is another provision of that statute which states that “the court shall determine the custody arrangement which will best assure both parents participate in such decisions and have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with their children so long as it is in the best interests of the child”. Please note that this does not mean that both parents shall have equal custody time but it means both parents shall have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the children, unless that is not in the best interest of the children.
There are a lot of facts that might affect the judge’s decision concerning both legal and physical custody of children. If the children are old enough, their wishes might affect the decision. The law clearly does not give preference to a mother over a father. Every case is different. Certainly anyone involved in a custody case involving children needs professional guidance in the process. Custody matter are a significant part of my practice of law. Please feel free to contact my office if you are involved in this type of issue.