Potential clients often contact me telling me that they want to fight for sole custody or joint custody of their children. Often, after I explain to them how Missouri defines child custody, they either change their goals or realize that the label, in some cases, is not nearly as important as the details.
So how does the state of Missouri look at custody? First, there are two components in Missouri to child custody: legal custody and physical custody.
Legal custody has to do with decision making as to important aspects of the child’s life- education, medical, religious upbringing and in some cases, sports and activities.
If the parents have joint legal custody, they will each have an equal say in all of the decision making, and they need to discuss and agree upon any educational, medical or religious decisions. Judges and legislature of Missouri prefer that parents share joint custody if possible because it is believed that a parent that has an equal say in his or her child’s life will be more likely to stay involved as a parent than one that feels “shut out”.
There are situations, however, where decisions cannot be made together. If there was domestic violence during the marriage or relationship there may be a court order preventing communication, or the parents may just have so much animosity toward each other that they just cannot communicate. In some cases a court may determine that one parent fails to exercise good judgment, or that a parent has unilaterally made the decisions without letting the other weigh in. In both of these situations the other parent may be granted sole legal custody.
If a parent has sole legal custody, he or she is (unless prevented by court order) still supposed to discuss any potential decisions with the other parent. However the parent with sole legal custody may make the ultimate decision if there is disagreement.
In a sole legal custody situation, both parents are still allowed equal access to all school and medical records. Both parents may speak with teachers and medical professionals and show up at doctor appointments, parent teacher conferences and activities. Any exclusion in these situations would need to be addressed specifically in the parenting plan.