Child Custody in Missouri

Types of Child Custody in Missouri

There are two types of child custody in Missouri: legal and physical. When child custody is litigated, both have to be included. It is possible to have joint one and sole the other, sole both, or joint both.

Legal Custody:


Legal custody is used to describe the decision-making power over the children’s lives. A person with legal custody will choose the school he or she attends, their medical care, and their religious affiliations.

Physical Custody:

Physical custody is used to describe where the child spends his or her time. A visitation schedule will be part of the physical custody arrangement. It will detail the child’s schedule as well as holiday and vacation schedules.

The Law Surrounding Child Custody in Missouri


 Legal Custody:

Joint legal custody is the norm in Missouri. Sole legal custody is awarded when one party is absent or refuses to participate, or when the relationship between the parents is so acrimonious that it is impossible to make decisions together regarding the child(ren).

Physical Custody:

It can be awarded solely to one parent (sole physical custody) with very limited visitation, but the default in Missouri is for a joint physical custody arrangement where the child gets to spend ample time with both parents. Thirty years ago the normal custody arrangement resulted in a child staying with one parent during the week, and the other parent every other weekend and additional time in the summer.

About ten years ago, the legal environment was favoring a “50/50” split. Many experts have come out against that arrangement in the recent years due to the disruption to the child. They argue that giving the child a consistent bed to sleep in during the week causes fewer school and personality problems. When the parents live close together, this might not be a problem. Once distance is added to the equation, it gets more difficult to work out an equitable split of the child’s time.

When mapping out physical custody, very often a “custodial parent” will be designated. The Court uses this term to show which parent’s address will be used for the purpose of mailing and school. It does not necessarily coincide with a greater amount of physical time with the child.

Miscellaneous Issues



Child Custody and Visitation can be modified once set. The original court-approved Parenting Plan, whether established in a divorce case or a paternity action, frequently becomes outdated and unworkable for one or both parties. In order to go back into Court and modify the custody arrangement, you must show that there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.

By the time the plan is no longer working, that has already taken place. For instance, many parents end up in a completely different arrangement than the one they signed because it “wasn’t working” for them. Years might pass and the informal agreements have taken their toll and the parties end up back in Court. In that instance, there is a substantial and continuing change.


Another reason parents might end up back in Court involve a relocation. Technically the parents are prohibited from moving unless they meet the requirements in Missouri Revised Statute 452.377. The most important requirement is notice to the other party. That gives the parent a chance to formally object in Court to the move. It is important if you are in this situation to act quickly. The statute requires 60 days notice, so there isn’t a lot of time to waste if the parent wants to object.

Relocation can be grounds for modifying the custody and visitation agreement, particularly when one parent did not give the required notice of the move.


 Your Next Step

If you have more questions about child custody in Missouri, contact my office for a free consultation on your case. My firm is accepting cases in St Louis, Jefferson County, and Saint Charles Counties. You may contact me via telephone at 314-782-3500 or via e-mail at

Contact me for a free assessment of your case.