St. Louis, Missouri Custody Attorneys

St. Louis, Missouri Custody AttorneysWhen parents divorce, it’s important to learn about the child custody and visitation options that are available and the laws that apply.  In many cases, couples can ultimately agree on custody and visitation issues without the need for a court order.  When an agreement cannot be reached, we can provide the legal advice and representation you to need to effectively present your case to the court.

Custody Basics

The duty to provide day-to-day care of a child and the right to direct the child’s daily activities is known as physical custodyLegal custody refers to the rights and responsibilities associated with decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.

Many options regarding the division of custody rights and responsibilities between divorcing parents exist.  More and more, courts are encouraging parents to continue working together to raise their children even after the marriage has ended.  Custody arrangements commonly include the following:

  • Sole Custody.  Sole physical custody occurs when one parent retains the exclusive, primary right to have the child live with him or her.  Sole legal custody occurs when one parent has the exclusive right to control the child’s upbringing.  The most common type of sole custody is sole physical custody with joint legal custody and a generous visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent.  When one parent ends up with the primary responsibility for the couple’s children, the other parent, known as the non-custodial parent, usually has the right to maintain contact with the children through ongoing visitation.
  • Joint Custody.  In joint custody, parents share the responsibility for decision making, for physical control and custody of the children, or for both.
  • Split Custody.  Split custody is a less popular resolution where each parent takes custody of different children.
  • Shared Parenting.  Shared parenting is a relatively new concept that has been adopted in several states.  In shared parenting, children usually spend equal amounts of time with each parent and the parents share legal and physical custody.

Determination of Custody and Visitation

Divorcing couples often address custody and visitation issues as soon as they separate.  Courts generally honor both long-term and short-term custody arrangements entered into by the parents.  When couples can’t agree, procedures exist throughout the divorce process to resolve custody conflicts.  Common procedures used to resolve custody issues include:

  • Temporary Hearings.  The family court holds a temporary hearing shortly after the Petition for Dissolution is filed.  If custody is contested at this point, the court will issue an order deciding custody that will be in effect until the final divorce decree.
  • Custody and Mediation.  Most states now require parties in a contested divorce to attempt mediation.  Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution in which divorcing couples work with a mediator to resolve all or some of their disagreements.  Couples who resolve their custody disputes through mediation can include a provision in their final divorce decree making mediation mandatory to resolve future custody and visitation disputes.
  • Custody Evaluations.  If the parties aren’t able to reach an agreement regarding custody, most courts will order a custody evaluation prior to trial.  The custody evaluation is made by an outside expert on whose assistance the court will rely in ordering a child custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
  • Custody Trials.  Missouri has statutes and procedures for the legal resolution of disputed child custody.  Most courts decide custody cases based upon a determination of what is in the best interests of the child.  Factors considered in determining custody arrangements include the child’s age, the child’s attachment to the parent who has been the primary caregiver, the physical and mental health of each parent, the existence of domestic violence, and the child’s wishes.

The resolution of child custody and visitation disputes requires parents to act rationally and in their child’s best interests at a time when they are facing the overwhelming stress of divorce.  We are here to help you understand your options and to make a plan that will serve the best interests of you and your children now and in the years to come.  To learn more about how we can help you in your custody dispute, call us to schedule an initial consultation.