Child Custody and Divorce – Part Two

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In our previous post, we set out the basics of child custody in Missouri. In this post, we will apply those guidelines to the case of Brad and Angelina to demonstrate how our rules work and how facts can make a seemingly simple system much more complicated.

Brad and Angelina had been together for more than a decade prior to filing for divorce; they have both natural and adopted children together. While they have ample resources to care for their children, they now lead very different lives. Brad will continue to act, and Angelina seems more committed to her philanthropic work with the United Nations. It seems that Brad lives in Los Angeles while Angelina lives in New York.

Joint custody is complicated by the fact that apparently Brad has engaged in behavior Angelina felt put the children at risk of physical or emotional harm, and may have something to do with substance abuse. These additional facts complicate a custody decision because it puts into question the ability of one parent to adequately care for the children.

In such a situation, our courts would start with a joint-joint scenario, but perhaps wonder how it could work. If the parents live on different coasts, the children cannot possibly spend equal amounts of time with each parent and still have stable relationships with friends and attend school. It would appear the court would have to pick a residential custodian who may receive more time, while still calling the arrangement joint-joint and still attempting to maximize time with each parent. A court could do this by giving regular school weeks to one parent, and most vacation and summertime to the other parent.

What about the “harm” allegations? If substantial and substantiated, usually by an independent examiner like a guardian ad litem appointed by the court to represent the interests of the children, the parent in question would have to undergo counseling and other steps to become a more responsible parent – the goal is restoration not punishment of the parent-child relationship. The advantage of a preference for joint-joint means that the bar is higher for showing how “harm” should take joint away.

What about the acrimony? As we know, this has been a very public divorce. Can the parties put that aside and work together for the children? Again, the preference helps – it leaves only those parents who refuse to work together in the position of having only one parent designated sole legal custodian.

So, while the current system is not one-size-fits-all, it definitely pushes the parties and the courts toward equal participation and equal time, with some creativity mixed in to make it all work. Parents who believe that sole is better run a risk that they could lose and find themselves on the short end of that equation; compromise makes for a safer strategy, and leaves only the most extreme cases in the sole-sole situations.

Our custody system favors two active and interested parents raising children together as best they can. But as you can see, even with that legal push toward joint-joint, what emerges as a parenting plan can be very different from family to family.

If you have questions about child custody and divorce, contact us – we can help.

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