This is the most crucial, and often the most heavily contested, issue in most divorces. In determining the custody of minor (usually under 18 years old) children, the court is guided by the best interests of the child standard.
Custody will not be given to a parent as a reward or as punishment to the guilty parent but rather to the one most adaptable to the task of caring for the child and able to control and direct the child.
Factors considered may include the need 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, the interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests, the child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community, the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved, and the wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian.
Custody may be changed if there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.
The court will normally set visitation rights if the parents cannot agree on satisfactory arrangements. An important factor to the court in most custody cases is which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent.
Within thirty (30) days after service of process or the filing of an entry of appearance, both parties must file a proposed parenting plan with the court. This plan would set forth the party’s proposed custody schedule with the children.
In determining custody, the court looks to the factors as set forth in Section 452.375. There must be an award as to the legal custody of the children as well as the physical custody of the children.
Legal custody pertains to the decision-making rights and responsibilities regarding the children. Joint legal custody means that the parties must confer and agree prior to decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child being made. Sole legal custody would allow one (1) parent to make the legal decisions regarding a child as they see fit, but only after they confer with the other parent.
The most important legal issues tend to be medical decisions, educational decisions, and religious decisions.
There is also more than one (1) classification as to the physical custody of a child. Sole physical custody implies that only one (1) parent has custody time with the child. This is incorrect.
Sole physical custody may still allow the other parent to have visitation time with the child(ren). Joint physical custody would entail each parent having significant periods of time during which the child resides with or is under the case of each parent.
The court determines custody according to the best interests of the child. In each case, one parent must be selected to be the residential parent for purposes of education and mailing.
Related Article: Ten Things You Can Do To Sabotage Your Custody Battle