When parents are separating, divorcing, or going through paternity proceedings, the custody of their child or children needs to be decided. Whether the court makes these decisions or approves the decisions made by parents, the child’s interests are always held as a priority. If a parent is deemed unfit, the court will not award them custody. Rather, it will likely limit or remove their rights to visitation. A Kansas City child custody attorney is helpful during these cases to protect your family’s interests.

When a parent is called an unfit parent, this does not mean that they made mistakes or are simply not a perfect parent. It is a legal term, and a parent is considered unfit when they endanger their child or harm them through neglect, abuse, or other dangerous actions. The parent may receive only limited or supervised visitation, and they may even have their parental rights terminated by the court.

Determining a Child’s Interests in Kansas City Court Decisions

There is a legal presumption in Missouri that it is in a child’s interest to spend equal or nearly equal parenting time with each of their parents. Therefore, joint custody is assumed unless there is a preponderance of evidence showing that this arrangement is not in the child’s interests. If that is the case, the court will consider other custody arrangements. The factors that the court will consider when determining what a child’s interests are include:

  1. The child’s relationship with their parents, their siblings, and other significant individuals who impact the child’s interests
  2. The child’s unobstructed input regarding custody preference
  3. The importance of a frequent and meaningful relationship between the child and each of their parents
  4. The willingness and ability of each parent to provide for their child
  5. Proposed parenting plans submitted by the child’s parents
  6. The wishes of each parent for custody
  7. The likelihood of each parent to allow their child to have a meaningful relationship with the other parent
  8. The child’s adjustment within their community, schoul, and home
  9. The physical and mental health of each parent and their child
  10. Whether either parent intends to relocate with the child
  11. Any history of abuse or a pattern of domestic violence

In many situations, it is preferable that parents make a custody arrangement together. This is preferred by the court, and it is frequently in the child’s interests. However, it is not always possible for parents to reach such an agreement, and it can even be contrary to the well-being and safety of a parent and their child in certain cases.

When Would the Court Deem a Parent Unfit?

The court may deem a parent unfit if they are incapable of providing care and support for a child’s basic needs. It may also declare a parent unfit if being under a parent’s care would cause physical, psychological, or emotional harm to the child. The actions that result in a parent being deemed unfit vary based on the unique situation, but they may include having:

  • The ability to provide for a child’s needs but being unwilling to
  • An untreated and continual substance abuse disorder
  • An untreated mental health disorder that affects their ability to care for their children
  • A conviction for violent felonies, crimes against children, and/or crimes against their own child
  • A history of domestic violence
  • A history of child abuse

An unfit parent will likely lose the ability to have custody of their child. An unfit parent is still entitled to visitation with their child unless it is decided that this visitation will harm the physical or emotional well-being of the child or if the parent has been convicted of specific crimes against their child. In extreme cases, the court will terminate an unfit parent’s parental rights.


Q: How Can You Prove That Someone Is Unfit to Be a Parent in Missouri?

A: To prove that another parent is unfit for custody in Missouri, you will have to show that they are endangering a child or harming their emotional or physical well-being. Depending on the specific grounds for claiming that a parent is unfit, potential evidence to prove their actions may include:

  • Criminal records of dangerous felony convictions
  • Witness testimony of abusive or unsafe behavior
  • Images or videos of violent or aggressive behavior
  • Medical documentation regarding any injuries that you or your child has suffered

Q: How Long Does a Parent Have to Be Absent to Lose Rights in Missouri?

A: A parent may lose their parental rights in Missouri if they are absent for a period of six months or longer when the child is one year or older. A court will determine that a child has been abandoned if one of the following is true:

  1. The child was left by their parent in such a way that the child’s identity couldn’t be determined, and the parent did not claim their child.
  2. The child was left by their parent without good cause, with no support, and without any attempt or arrangements to visit or communicate.

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

A: There are many factors that a judge will consider when determining the interests of a child, some of which include:

  • A proposed parenting plan
  • The wishes of each parent
  • The importance of a child having frequent and meaningful contact with both parents
  • The mental and physical health of both parents and their child
  • The relationship between the child and their parents, siblings, and other significant persons
  • The child’s connection to their community, home, and school
  • The unobstructed input of the child

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

A: The new law for child custody in Missouri creates a legal presumption that equal or near-equal parenting time is in the child’s interest unless the court is shown otherwise. This came into effect in 2023. Family courts prior to this tended to prefer joint custody and near-equal parenting time, but it was not law until this change was made. The court will consider other custody options when there is a preponderance of evidence that equal parenting time with both parents is not in a child’s interest.

Protecting Your Child’s Interests in a Custody Determination

If you believe that your child would be in danger if their other parent had custody, it is important that this is considered by the court. Whether you need to prove an unfit parent or need to defend yourself against accusations, an experienced attorney can help. Contact Stange Law Firm today.