Missouri laws pertaining to child custody and visitation rights have evolved over the years to recognize that more is involved in these cases than just deciding where a child will live and how many times a month the noncustodial parent will visit with him or her. The fact that a child's parents have made a decision to end their relationship does not mean that either of them should have more or less rights and responsibilities in raising the child than should the other.
It is an expected, even desired outcome that couples with children who have gone through a divorce should be able to move on with their lives. Part of moving on after a divorce can involve the desire of a custodial parent to relocate and to retain custody; this can take place for different reasons, such as remarriage, or new employment.
After a Missouri court grants legal custody to a parent or joint custody to both parents in a divorce, separation, or child custody proceeding, disputes might later arise between the parents. When this happens, the court that granted the original order is usually the one that retains jurisdiction over the matter.
Deciding child custody as part of a divorce or as a separate, stand-alone child custody dispute can be a difficult and emotionally-charged ruling for a Missouri judge to make. State law provides some guidance for judges by directing that custody should be decided by taking into consideration the best interests of the child, but it fails to offer a definition of what is meant by best interests.
One year ago, a mother hired two young men to kidnap her one-year-old daughter from the child's father, who had legal custody of the girl. Recently, the woman entered a guilty plea to three felony charges in Jasper County Circuit Court. As part of the plea deal, additional charges against the woman were dropped.
We recently commented on a study showing that co-parenting arrangements, in which divorcing parents share joint custody of a child, are becoming increasingly popular with judges. In that post, we recommended that Missouri parents should be cautious when entering into such agreements, and they should make sure that their rights and the best interests of the child are protected.
In judgments of divorce involving custody matters, custody is generally awarded to the parties in two separate ways: legal custody and physical custody. For example, the custody order may say that both parties share joint legal custody of a child, while one party retains sole physical custody. So, what exactly does this mean?