Missouri moving away from traditional concepts of child custody?

Missouri and a few other states are considering legislation that could change the way in which child custody arrangements are made. Current Missouri law (found in Missouri Revised Statutes Section 452.375.1) bases custody on the legal standard of the "best interests of the child," and provides guidance for family court judges making child custody determinations in the form of factors to be considered before custody is set.

The factors include, among other things:

  • The wishes of the parents and the child
  • The child's current living arrangement
  • The child's relationship with both parents and with any siblings or other family members
  • The child's adjustment to his or her current home, school and community situation
  • Mental and physical health of all parties involved

The factors - and the child custody statute as a whole - are well-intentioned and have served families around this state for many years. However, critics argue they are outdated. Proponents of change say that current laws don't, for example, necessarily reflect the most recent developments in our understanding not only of child psychology following divorce, but also in the high value of meaningful relationships with both parents for a child's development.

A popular alternative to traditional custody concepts

One popular alternative to traditional concepts of sole or joint physical custody is "shared parenting." Shared parenting is seen as a more collaborative approach to parenting, with the focus not on the amount of time the child spends with each parent, but instead, on the relationship each maintains with the child following a divorce or break-up. Since traditional custody determinations have overwhelmingly favored the mother, many proponents of shared parenting initiatives cite research about the importance of paternal relationships as an impetus for change.

Social scientists list positive father-child relations as a key factor in overall child happiness and emotional development. This certainly isn't to say that children without significant father figures or quality father-child relationships can't develop normally, but studies have shown higher IQ, better educational outcomes and higher overall reported mental and emotional well-being in those children who have relationships with both parents.

Only time will tell if initiatives regarding the shared parenting approach will be successful in Missouri and other states currently considering them. In the meantime, however, striking a custody and visitation/parenting time balance that is in the best interests of your children is vitally important.

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