Custody Expectations in a Divorce: What Should I Know?

I am sure that a lot of you wonder: Okay, I am ready for divorce. What can I expect when it comes to custody of my kids? What kind of parenting time or visitation will my spouse and I get when it comes to my kids? What happens when I am the one who has raised the kids while my spouse is out drinking, playing poker, and doing whatever the heck he wants to do, leaving me to deal with the kids full time? What kind of expectations are reasonable in a custody case in a Missouri court?

I will try to give you some perspective on these issues as part of this article.

  1. Custody: In Missouri, the law provides a number of different custody alternatives that the Court must consider. These alternatives include, but are not limited to: joint legal custody, joint physical custody, sole legal custody, and sole physical custody. There is definitely a preference to joint legal and physical custody of the children in both parents, if this is in the children's best interest.   
  2. Parenting Time: Some time ago, in custody cases, the parent with the greater amount of time was called the primary custodian. The other parent received what was called visitation. Now, this has changed. The concept of a primary custodian no longer exists in the law. And the time that parents receive with their children is called parenting time, not visitation, for the most part, unless sole physical custody is ordered. Law requires that both parents receive frequent and meaningful contact with their children, so long as the same is in their children's best interest.
  3. Children's Best Interest: The overriding and absolute paramount concern in all custody cases is the best interests of the children. In deciding what is in the children's best interest, the court will look at a number of factors provided for in the applicable Missouri statute including:
    • The wishes of the child's parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plans submitted by both parties.
    • The needs of the child for a frequent, continual and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child.
    • The interaction and interrelationship with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interest.
    • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent.
    • The child's adjustment to the child's home, school and community.
    • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved including any history of abuse of any individuals involved.
    • The intention of either parent to relocate the principle residence of the child. 
    • The wishes of the child as to the child's custodian.
  4. Equal Parenting Time: All things being equal with two good parents, there is definitely movement by the courts and the judges towards a custody arrangement where both parents enjoy equal or nearly equal parenting time with their children. The specifics of such a plan will vary from case to case. There is something to be said for creative parents who put their children's interests first, rather than their own. Under such an arrangement, the parents will either alternate weeks with their children or alternate weekends with a division of the weekday parenting time that is equal or nearly equal.
  5. Supervised Or Limited Parenting Time/Visitation: There are circumstances where a parent can severely restrict or limit the other parents' time with the children but, for this to occur, the parents seeking the restriction or supervision must show that the failure to restrict the visitation or have it supervised will endanger the child's physical health and/or impair the child's emotional development. This is a difficult, but not impossible, burden to meet on the party of the parent seeking the restricted or supervised parenting time or visitation.
  6. Expectations: Every custody is different. NO two cases are exactly alike. All things being equal, here is generally what you can expect:
    • You and your spouse will receive joint legal and physical custody of your children.
    • You and your spouse will receive equal or nearly equal parenting time with your children.

If things are not equal as between you and your spouse, there is good reason to support it, and it is in the children's best interests, then there may be a sole custody award and visitation in your spouse may be supervised or restricted.


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