Friday, June 1, 2012

Custody of Minor Children—What is “Best Interest?”

To make an initial custody decision, a Missouri court has the duty to examine eight various factors in order to make a best interest determination. Where the child wishes to reside is one of them, but not necessarily the determining factor. The court must also look at:

The wishes of the child's parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;

If one of the parents fails to participate in a cause of action, his or her ability to present a case is adversely affected. There are occasions when custody is determined in favor of the party who has filed, primarily due to the second party failing to file an answer and participate in the outcome. 

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;

The Missouri legislature has expressed a clear preference for joint custody if possible. It is accepted as true that a child needs both a mother and a father for optimal maturation. However, if one parent is hampered by addictions, absence, abusive behaviors or illness, the other parent could be found to be a more able and willing parent. 

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

How does everybody interact and deal with one another? If there are significant issues, the court will consider those.

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

Action by a parent that interferes with the ability of the other parent to have a relationship with the child will adversely impact their custody. Examples are refusing to call the child to the phone, refusing to keep each other advised as to significant events, refusing to schedule parenting time with the other parent.

The child's adjustment to the child's home, school, and community;

If a child is having significant adjustment challenges in a particular home, school or community, a more nurturing environment might be indicated. Issues with step-parents, inappropriate discipline, cult membership, lack of educational opportunity, etc. will be considered. One parent being more financially able than another will not be determinative by itself.

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;

If a court finds there has been abuse but there is little alternative but to maintain custody with the abusive parent, special findings of fact must be made and written into the final judgment.

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

Once the case has been filed, it is against the law for a parent to unilaterally move the child out of the jurisdiction. All such moves will have to be approved by the court in order to be legal.

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.

When children reach the teenage years, they often suddenly express a desire to switch households. Cases require careful analysis, as the Disney parent might seem attractive in the eyes of the minor child.

Once the court has looked at all these factors, the best interest of the child can be determined.

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