How to File for Joint Custody in Missouri

How to File for Joint Custody in Missouri: A Comprehensive Guide

When a couple with children decides to end their marriage or relationship, one of the most crucial aspects to consider is child custody. In the state of Missouri, the court’s primary focus is always on the best interests of the child, and joint custody is often seen as the most favorable arrangement. If you are a parent seeking joint custody, here is a step-by-step guide on how to file for joint custody in Missouri.

Step 1: Understand the Different Types of Custody
In Missouri, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education and healthcare. Physical custody, on the other hand, pertains to where the child primarily resides. Joint custody can involve both legal and physical custody or just one of them.

Step 2: Gather Necessary Documents
Before filing for joint custody, it is important to gather all the necessary documents, including the child’s birth certificate, any court orders related to custody, and information about the child’s living arrangements, education, and healthcare.

Step 3: File a Petition for Custody
To initiate the joint custody process, you must file a petition for custody with the appropriate court. In Missouri, this is typically done in the family division of the circuit court in the county where the child resides.

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Step 4: Attend Mediation
In many cases, the court will require parents to attend mediation to attempt to reach an agreement on custody before proceeding to trial. Mediation is a voluntary process that helps parents communicate and develop a parenting plan that suits their child’s best interests.

Step 5: Develop a Parenting Plan
If an agreement is reached during mediation, it is important to develop a detailed parenting plan outlining each parent’s responsibilities and visitation schedule. If no agreement is reached, the court will determine custody based on the best interests of the child.

Step 6: Submit the Parenting Plan
Once a parenting plan has been developed, it must be submitted to the court for approval. The court will review the plan and ensure that it is in the child’s best interests.

Step 7: Attend Court Hearings
If an agreement cannot be reached, the court will schedule a hearing where both parties can present their cases. It is crucial to be well-prepared for the hearing, including having any necessary documents or witnesses to support your case.

Step 8: Obtain a Custody Order
After the court hearings, if joint custody is awarded, the court will issue a custody order that outlines the specific terms and conditions of the joint custody arrangement. It is important to fully understand and comply with the order to ensure a smooth co-parenting relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q1: Can joint custody be awarded if parents live in different cities?
A1: Yes, joint custody can be awarded even if parents live in different cities. The court will consider various factors, such as the distance between the parents’ residences and the child’s school, when determining the best interests of the child.

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Q2: Can joint custody be modified?
A2: Yes, joint custody can be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances or if the current arrangement is no longer in the child’s best interests. However, the court will always prioritize stability and continuity for the child.

Q3: What if one parent disagrees with joint custody?
A3: If one parent disagrees with joint custody, the court will make a decision based on the child’s best interests. However, it is always encouraged for parents to reach an agreement through mediation or negotiation to avoid a contentious custody battle.

Q4: Will joint custody affect child support?
A4: Joint custody does not automatically eliminate child support obligations. The court will consider various factors, including the income of both parents and the amount of time the child spends with each parent, when determining child support.

Q5: Can grandparents file for joint custody?
A5: Grandparents can file for custody if they can demonstrate that it is in the child’s best interests and that both parents are unfit or have abandoned their parental responsibilities.

Q6: Can joint custody arrangements be modified without going to court?
A6: Yes, joint custody arrangements can be modified through mutual agreement between the parents. However, it is advisable to seek legal advice and have any modifications approved by the court to ensure they are legally enforceable.

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Q7: Do both parents need to have equal parenting time for joint custody?
A7: Joint custody does not require equal parenting time. The court will determine the parenting schedule based on what is in the child’s best interests, taking into account various factors such as the parents’ work schedules and the child’s school and extracurricular activities.

Q8: Can joint custody be awarded if there is a history of domestic violence?
A8: Joint custody may be awarded if the court believes it is in the child’s best interests and appropriate safety measures are put in place to protect the child and the victim of domestic violence.

Q9: Can joint custody be terminated?
A9: Joint custody can be terminated if one parent can demonstrate that the other parent is unfit or poses a danger to the child’s wellbeing. The court will consider evidence presented and make a decision based on the child’s best interests.

In conclusion, filing for joint custody in Missouri involves a series of steps, including filing a petition, attending mediation, developing a parenting plan, and attending court hearings. It is crucial to understand the process and seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of child custody proceedings successfully.