First, the General Assembly now instructs the court to consider, in a contempt or modification proceeding relating to custody or visitation, how a party’s past custodial interference, without cause, impacts the ability of that party to willingly allow the child frequent and meaningful contact with the other party. It seems that the legislature is now stressing to the court that custodial interference should be considered more strongly as a basis to modify custody, at least to the extent that such interference seems to pose chronic problems in enforcing a custody schedule.
Second, the new law seeks to help courts and parents create the best parenting plans possible, requiring publication of a handbook that includes guidelines designed “to maximize to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent.” While this directive is not a requirement of equal time, it does push parents and the courts to consider getting closer to that point where possible. The handbook will be made available online and also upon request by a party. Also, attorneys when filing a petition for dissolution or legal separation must provide the handbook to their clients, and unrepresented parties must receive one from the court. Further, a copy of the handbook must be served on the other party with the summons and the petition.
Finally, the new law makes an important change to parenting plans. Under current law, each county has the ability to draft its own standardized or default parenting plan. Now, no court may draft such a default plan or adopt one without notice and hearing to the parties to have the chance to challenge its terms. Also, the parenting plan guidelines adopted by the supreme court will be posted on the state court administrator website. It seems the legislature wants to have the supreme court draft a uniform parenting plan but allow the parties the freedom to structure it rather than have a default custody plan in any county.
Why did the General Assembly enact these changes? It appears that the legislature wants to move to protect parents in custody matters in several ways. First, it does not want courts to favor one parent for reasons based on gender or status. Second, it wants parents and courts to provide for more equal parenting time whenever possible. And third, it wants parents to obey custody plans by stating that custodial interference will not be tolerated and could result in a change of custody.
If you have questions about the new changes to Missouri family law, contact us – we can help.