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Margie: Well, some changes in the way you get a divorce in Missouri lawmakers weighed in on several issues this past legislative session. Jonathan Marks with The Marks Law Firm joining us this morning with a Fox 2 Follow-Up and good morning to you.
Jonathan: Good morning, Margie.
Margie: You know, a few weeks ago we talked about some of these–or a few months ago actually–and now the legislature has moved forward with a lot of these, and one of them is talking about physical custody of your children.
Jonathan: Right, so the statute that’s currently in place will have additional language that basically is going to restate that there’s eight factors that the court is supposed to be looking at. But in essence, if the parents are able to come to their own agreement, the court doesn’t have to look through that eight-factor test in the same way. But if they’re unable to, and if they have a real custody dispute, now if they go to trial, the court not only has to review those eight factors, but it has to do what’s called “findings of fact and conclusions of law” basically spell out in detail as to why it came to the conclusion as to what was the best interest of the child for purposes of a custody schedule.
Margie: Another big change, and this one’s pretty huge, deals with custodial interference.
Jonathan: So basically now we’re going to put in language in every parenting plan and judgment that states if a parent interferes with the custody of the other parent, there’s going to be repercussions. It will basically state there there’s going to be the availability of a verified motion for contempt, or actually a family access motion, and that language in there puts someone on notice that there’s going to be a problem if they interfere without good cause and are brought back before the court.
Margie: Yeah, but that also deals with the publication of a handbook with guidelines for the parents as well?
Jonathan: So today you receive sort of a handbook at the beginning but now there is going to be strict language put into the statute that’s going to state at the beginning of a case, if you’re representing the petitioner, you need to hand them a particular handbook that’ll be drafted through the Supreme Court that’ll set forth the guidelines of how parents should be examining their situation and putting together their own parenting plan that they believe is in the best interest of the child and maximizes the time between both parents.
Margie: Is there also a change in the parenting plans as well with this?
Jonathan: Yeah, so currently each county would have the ability to put together a default parenting plan that would set forth what that particular county believes is in the best interest of the child. That’s going to be abolished and now what we’re going to have is a strict guidelines that’ll be uniform throughout the state that says a particular county or court can’t have a default plan and instead the Supreme Court will have guidelines that’ll be available on their website and also available to the parents going through custody matters, and they need to follow their guidelines of putting together a parenting plan that, again, maximizes the time between both parents.
Margie: Yeah, it also includes language regarding non-discrimination between parents and making custody decisions.
Jonathan: There’s currently language that’s set forth in there, but basically what we’re doing is modernizing it, we’re making sure that it’s very clear that there isn’t what we used to call a “tender years doctrine,” a preference for a mother during the early periods of time of a child’s life, and now we’re going to make it very clear that whether you’re a man or a woman when you walk into court and there’s a custody situation, there is no bias to be looked at from the court for purposes of making a custody determination.
Margie: Jonathan, what’s your take that the legislature is trying to do here? Why make these changes?
Jonathan: Well I think in a modern society what it’s trying to do is to do three things: basically it’s trying to make sure that everybody knows there is no bias based upon whether you’re a man or woman coming into a custody dispute, they’re trying to make sure that it’s very clear that the goal of the Missouri legislature is to ensure that both parents have maximum time with their child, and then the third thing is to make sure there’s an enforcement provision put into place so if a parent that feels that they’ve been wronged by the other parent by some form of custodial interference, has an avenue to make sure that they can go and get relief from the court.
Margie: Alright, family law attorney Jonathan Marks, thank you, we appreciate it.
Jonathan: My pleasure.
Margie: For more information on The Marks Law Firm, head to STLMoms.