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Is Missouri A 50-50 State For Child Custody?

One of the most common questions we get from divorcing parents is, “Will I have a fair shot at child custody?” or “Is Missouri a mother state?” The general answer is that Missouri gives both parents a fair chance in obtaining child custody. There is no special preference given to mothers.

However, it doesn’t automatically mean that custody will be divided equally between mom and dad. This is a misconception related to a 2016 law that encourages Missouri judges to award 50-50 custody time. The law presumes in favor joint child custody between the parents, but it only suggests the granting of equal custody. In other words, 50-50 custody is not mandated. Judges decide with that presumption in mind, but ultimately, they still have discretion regarding the best interests of the child.

There is also a new House Bill that pushes for split custody arrangements as a default starting point. If or when HB 229 becomes law, a parent who wishes to have more than 50 percent custody would have to prove in court that it would be best for the child.

As of now, it is still very much possible for the court to grant either sole custody or joint custody, and to grant either parent with more parenting time than the other. As always, the main goal of the court is the child’s best interest. To determine this, the judge will hear evidence and weigh various factors such as:

  • Each parent’s capacity to raise the child
  • The child’s adjustment to each parent’s home and community
  • The child’s interaction with each parent
  • Any history of abuse
  • The soundness of each parent’s physical and mental health
  • The child’s wishes.

Again, the law gives no special preference to mothers. In fact, current Missouri law prohibits judges from basing their custody decisions on either parent’s gender. The notion that young children are best raised by their mothers has long been debunked by science, with studies now showing that children develop better when spending time with both parents.

Do you have concerns regarding your child custody dispute? Although the law affords equal chances for fathers and mothers, some parents are still anxious that the court would have a certain bias towards the other parent, or that they would be outmaneuvered by their ex’s lawyer. It’s best that you protect your parental rights by at least consulting with a family law attorney.

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Shea Kohl Law, LC serves clients in Missouri including St. Charles, Troy and Lincoln and throughout Warren and St. Louis counties. We also serve clients in Illinois.