In most cases, a parent’s prime objective during
divorce is to gain custody of their children. What many parents do not realize,
however, is that there are actually two different types of
child custody: physical and legal.
Legal vs. Physical Custody – What Is the Difference?
Legal custody of a child means that a parent has the right and responsibility
to make crucial decisions about a child’s wellbeing and upbringing
on their behalf. Parents with legal custody can make decisions regarding
their child’s schooling, medical care, religious upbringing, and
other issues. Many courts within Missouri will favor awarding joint legal
custody, meaning that this authority is shared by both parents.
Conversely, physical custody is a parent’s right to have a child
live with him or her on a daily basis. Like legal custody, many judges
will favor maintaining the involvement of both parents in a child’s
life and will award joint physical custody to both parents, allowing them
to share parenting time on a relatively equal schedule. This works best
if parents live relatively close to each other, as it lessens the amount
of stress placed on children and helps them maintain a somewhat normal routine.
How Is Custody Determined?
Divorcing or separating parents in Missouri have the ability to determine
an appropriate separation of these powers on their own through collaborative
negotiations or mediation. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached,
however, a judge may step in and issue a decision on the parents’
behalf. While each parent may present their case before a judge, the court’s
ultimate decision will be made in alignment with the child’s best
Determining the child’s best interests will involve consideration
of the following:
- Each parent’s income and employment situation
- The fitness of each parent to provide care
- The child’s medical, social, and developmental needs
- The child’s wishes, if of suitable age
- Relocation plans of the parents
- The living situations of any siblings
- Histories of abuse or neglect of either parent
When Is Sole Custody Awarded?
In rare circumstances, the courts may choose to award sole physical and
legal custody to one parent. This is generally reserved for scenarios
in which one parent is deemed unfit to care for a child, usually due to
alcohol or drug dependency, a new partner who is unfit, or charges of
abuse or neglect. In even rarer circumstances in which both parents are
deemed unfit or unwilling to provide care, custody or visitation may be
granted to an interested third party, such as a grandparent or close relative.
Regardless of the circumstances, any and all custody disputes should be
handled with the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney to ensure your
rights as a parent are guarded. At Worsham Law Firm, our
Springfield family lawyers have been helping clients throughout Missouri pursue amicable solutions
for complex custody battles for more than 20 years.
To find out more about how our team of knowledgeable advocates can help
you get through this difficult time,
contact our office online or call us today at (417) 658-4172 and set up your confidential