It’s important to understand the options for child custody if you are divorcing or separating. This is an incredibly difficult process for the entire family, and this information can help you successfully navigate it. It’s also beneficial to work with a Kansas City, MO, child custody attorney throughout these proceedings.

The Types of Child Custody in Kansas City, MO

Missouri’s child custody laws are similar to those of many other states and include two main types: legal and physical custody. Family courts can assign each of these types of custody solely to one parent or jointly to both.

  1. Physical custody is where a child spends most of their time and belongs to the parent who is primarily responsible for their basic needs.
  2. Legal custody is the right of one or both parents to make important legal and life choices for their children, including their healthcare, religious upbringing, and schooling.

The family court may be responsible for custody determinations, or parents may negotiate a parenting plan outside of court and bring it to the court for approval. In either case, the plan will prioritize the child’s interests. Each family may need a unique parenting plan structure, and the court will review their wishes, their child’s wishes, and many other factors to decide which custody arrangement works in the child’s interests.

  1. Joint physical custody occurs when both parents have near-equal parenting time with their child. Although a 50-50 split is often impractical, it is the goal of joint physical custody to be as close to 50-50 as possible. This way, a child spends meaningful time with both parents.
  2. Sole physical custody is when one parent’s home is the child’s primary home, usually with significant visitation rights given to the other parent. In cases where it is appropriate, the court might only provide limited or supervised visitation. It would be considered appropriate for a parent to receive no visitation rights if the child’s health and well-being would be in immediate danger.
  3. Joint legal custody is when each parent has legal rights to make essential decisions for their children. A parenting plan should address important decisions, like healthcare needs and where a child will go to school, and outline how parents will make future decisions together.
  4. Sole legal custody is when only one parent is allowed the legal right to make decisions for their child, and they do not have to request the other parent’s permission. Often, the parent must still inform the other parent about these decisions. It is rare for the court to assign sole legal custody. Typically, this only occurs when a parent has a serious criminal history, has a past of domestic violence, or is otherwise determined to be unfit to care for their child and make decisions for them.

One of the most common forms of custody is joint legal custody paired with joint or sole physical custody, where each parent has significant parenting time with their children. If a parent wishes to have sole joint and legal custody of their child, they must prove why it is counter to their child’s interest to spend time with the other parent. It’s helpful to work with an attorney to advocate for you and your child’s needs in this situation.

How Does the Court Decide a Child’s Interests?

There are several factors that the court will review when deciding a child’s interests in a custody case. The family court assumes that it is in a child’s interests to spend significant and meaningful time with both their parents unless there is a preponderance of evidence that disputes this. The court will determine a child’s interests based on:

  1. Each parent’s willingness and ability to care for their child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, healthcare, and a safe living environment
  2. The age, physical health, and mental health of each parent and the child
  3. The child’s relationship with each parent
  4. The child’s needs and their need to have a meaningful relationship with each parent
  5. The child’s connections with their community and their relationships with other family members, primarily siblings
  6. Whether either parent is more likely to encourage a meaningful relationship between the other parent and the child
  7. Whether either parent is planning to relocate the child’s primary residence
  8. The child’s unobstructed personal wishes
  9. The parent’s wishes and any parenting plan presented to the court
  10. If either parent is unfit, such evidence of a continued substance abuse disorder or a history of domestic violence

In many cases, the court prefers when parents create a parenting plan, as it shows that parents can work together in their child’s interests. However, there are situations where this isn’t possible.


Q: What Is the New Law for Child Custody in Missouri?

A: A new change to child custody laws in 2023 creates a legal assumption in the court that joint custody is in a child’s interest. Although family courts already had this preference, it is now codified. Unless the court sees proof otherwise, it is assumed that it is in the child’s interests to spend continued and meaningful time with both of their parents.

Q: What Is the Difference Between Sole Custody and Joint Custody in Missouri?

A: Sole and joint custody in Missouri are different based on which parents have custody rights. Sole custody is when only one parent has the ability to make legal decisions for their child and/or when a child lives primarily with that parent. Joint custody occurs when both parents have parental rights to make decisions for their children and/or when they have nearly equal time with their children.

Q: What Do Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases in Missouri?

A: Judges look for a child’s interests in custody cases in Missouri. To decide what a child’s interests are, many factors will be relevant, including:

  • The age and health of the child
  • The relationship between each parent and the child
  • The connections that the child has to their community
  • The wishes of the child and parents

Q: What Deems a Parent Unfit in Missouri?

A: In Missouri, a parent is deemed unfit if they do anything to place a child in a situation where the child is endangered, or their emotional, psychological, or physical well-being is harmed. Certain actions, such as willful refusal to meet a child’s basic needs, domestic violence, conviction of violent felonies, or untreated substance abuse disorder, may result in a parent being deemed unfit.

When a parent is deemed unfit, they may lose legal custody rights, be allowed only supervised visitation, or even lose parental rights entirely.

Navigating Child Custody

An attorney can help you navigate a child custody case. Contact Stange Law Firm.