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The question of “Where will your child live?” is addressed in Physical Custody awards. As you’ll see, this can be quite complicated as there are a many factors that go into the final award by the court.
Physical custody awards may be either Joint Physical Custody or Sole Physical Custody awards. Missouri has a preference for Joint Custody awards. Joint Physical Custody awards both you and the child’s other parent generally equal time with the minor child. However, just because a court gives the parties Joint Physical Custody does not mean the time must be exactly 50-50. For example, the court may decide it is in the best interests of the child to minimize transitions between households during the school year. In any joint physical custody award, the court still must designate one parent the residential custodian for mailing and educational purposes – an important issue if the child will attend public school. Sole Physical Custody awards one parent principal time with the minor child, but still must insure frequent and meaningful continuing contact with the other parent. The parent without sole physical custody has what we call Visitation Rights rather than Physical Custody Rights.
In determining whether to award Sole or Joint Physical 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 the 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 physical custody, and will set out a specific schedule of temporary physical custody.