Child Custody and a Child’s “Best Interests”

When a new client comes to me with a case involving custody of a child, there are invariably questions about how to get a good result.

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Subharnab Majumdar, CC BY 2.0

Here is the statute the courts in Missouri generally follow to decide the custody of a child.  There are exceptions and the cited statute does not control in every type of case, but in divorce (also called “dissolution”) and paternity (also called “custody”) cases, it usually does.

Philosophers, historians, politicians, legal scholars, social workers, child psychologists, parents and just about anyone else could argue about all sorts of ideas for a child’s “best interests.”  But here is what the courts in Missouri usually consider:

“The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including:

(1) The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;

(2) The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child;

(3) The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

(4) Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;

(5) The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community;

(6) The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence as defined in section 455.010 has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;

(7) The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and

(8) The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian. The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.”

Section 452.375, RSMo.

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