What, exactly, does the phrase “joint physical custody” mean in Missouri? Parents, lawyers and judges face defining the contours of the term every day, and more and more, parents do not understand why their view differs from that of the courts.
To the layperson, joint physical custody means each parents have the same amount of physical custody time, just as joint legal custody means the parents share the same authority in making decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child.
But under Missouri law, joint physical custody means significant – but not necessarily equal – periods of time with the child. As a result, a judge in a courthouse in any county in Missouri could award joint physical custody to parents where each will have the same amount of actual time with the child, while another judge down the hall in the same courthouse could also award joint physical custody to parents where one parent receives one weekday overnight and every other weekend.
A national movement seeks to end this seemingly arbitrary process by enacting what are called “shared parenting” laws that require courts to award parents equal physical custody time with the child unless one parent can show doing so would not be in the best interest of the child – and the reason would have to be serious, such as an abusive parent or a parent addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Last week, a state senate committee held a hearing on a shared parenting bill currently working its way through the General Assembly. Proponents note that studies show that the more time a child spends with each parent, the greater the bond that child has with the parent and the better relationship that child has with each parent.
It is unclear at the moment the odds on whether the legislature will pass. Some legislators are concerned the impact such a bill would have on child support – a strange objection, given that courts currently do award equal parenting time but still order some parents to pay support because of the needs of the children and the disparity in parent incomes.
We will continue to keep you updated on the progress of the legislation.
If you have questions about shared parenting and divorce, contact us – we can help.