New Custody Rules Become Law in Missouri

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Last Friday, Governor Nixon signed HB 1550, enacting into law a significant change to the discretion judges have in awarding legal and physical custody in Missouri.

As we have discussed in previous posts, the new law will expand on the presumption in favor of joint custody in Missouri, giving it more definition. While the law does not explicitly state that each parent should have equal time with the minor children, it seems to suggest the courts should start with that presumption in mind. Further, for all parenting plans that deviate from this norm, courts must give explicit reasons for why they chose those plans, not only letting parents know the rationale but making it clearer for appellate review.

The law certainly will move the courts closer to equal parenting plans. The presumption for joint legal custody, where parents share in the decision making process with regard to the health, education and welfare of the child, will be harder to overcome; it will require in all likelihood a strong evidentiary showing that one parent will refuse to cooperate with the other parent in a way that puts the child at risk of physical or emotional harm. And with regard to physical custody, the new normal could become different variations of 50/50 custody time.

Studies do show that when children after divorce spend more equal periods of time with both parents, the children tend to exhibit greater signs of adaptability and psychological well-being. Shared parenting should also reduce the degree of noncompliance with parenting plans and encourage more cooperation and acting in the best interests of the children.

While the law could promise real change, it will take two to three years to flesh out exactly how it will work in practice, as first family courts and later appellate courts define the specific contours of what the push toward equal parenting really means in Missouri.

For parents who feel that the court has ignored their pleas for more time with their children, this new law will offer hope. And for parents who worry that a non-cooperative parent will be allowed to make life harder for the cooperative parent and the children, this new law will not easily lead to those outcomes, as the overriding guidepost is still the best interest of the child.

If you have questions how the changes in custody laws in Missouri affect you, contact us – we can help.