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Legal Custody, that is, the right to make decisions on your child’s behalf, may be given as either Joint Legal Custody or Sole Legal Custody. Missouri has a preference for Joint Custody awards. Joint Legal Custody means both you and the child’s other parent will jointly make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of the child – they share information, they consult prior to decisions and collectively agree on a course of action. Sole Legal Custody means only one parent makes the decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of your child, though the sole legal custodian still may have to consult with the other parent in advance of decisions and keep that parent informed about schooling, medical care and activities.
In determining whether to award sole or joint legal custody, the court is guided first by the best interests of the child, but also must consider a list of factors, including the wishes of the parents; the need to ensure a continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and which parent would be more likely to facilitate that relationship; the interaction of the child with parents, siblings and other family members; which parent would more likely allow frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent; the child’s adjustment to home, school and community; the mental and physical health of both parents, including any issues of domestic violence; the intention of either parent to relocate; and the wishes of the child, if the child is sufficiently mature to express such wishes.
In all cases, the court must enter a detailed Parenting Plan that will set out the specific duties and conditions of each parent with regard to Legal Custody.
If you believe that you can co-parent successfully with the children’s other parent, you will want to pursue Joint Legal Custody. If you believe that you cannot co-parent successfully with the children’ other parent, you may wish to pursue Sole Legal Custody. However, understand that when the court has two parents asking for sole legal custody, only one parent will be awarded that right to make decisions.