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A Closer Look at Legal Custody in Missouri

father son.jpgIn Missouri the general concepts involved in an award of sole legal custody or joint legal custody can be simply explained. However, prior to accepting a specific legal custody arrangement, Missouri parents should be aware that the specific language contained in their court order regarding legal custody can have a significant impact on both their interactions with their child’s other parent and with those involved in their child’s medical care, education and extracurricular activities.

In Missouri, the portion of the court order which details the custodial arrangements between parents and their child and the decision making rights of the parents is referred to as the Parenting Plan. Most Parenting Plans will contain language which mandates that the parents communicate with each other before making final decisions effecting the growth and development of a child. This is usually followed by a list of examples of decisions which fall within the category of “effecting the growth and development” of the child. In broad terms, any decisions which impacts a child’s medical treatment, religious upbringing, educational development and participation in extra-curricular activities fall under the category of “effecting the growth and development” of a child. (LEGAL CUSTODY.docx)

In Missouri, legal custody is broken down into an award of either joint legal custody or sole legal custody. In most Parenting Plans an award of sole legal custody stops short of requiring that parents agree on decisions before a final decision on these important issues is made. Typically, the parent who is awarded sole legal custody is granted sole discretion to make the final decision on these matters.

In a joint legal custody order each parent has equal say regarding these major decisions, and a Parenting Plan will typically mandate that the parents agree on the decision before it is made. Further, a well-crafted Parenting Plan will usually include language as to the procedure the parents must follow to resolve disagreements on these decisions in an award of joint legal custody.

Most experienced Missouri family law attorneys will agree that when there is a traditional award of sole legal custody, the level of communication about these important decisions between the parent with legal custody and the parent without legal custody can often be very poor. The result of this is that the parent without legal custody is often kept in the dark on the most important decisions affecting his or her child’s development. Therefore, it is critical that each parent discuss with their Missouri family law attorney the legal custody language in their Parenting Plan before their custody matter is finally resolved.

Not only can the legal custody language affect your ability to make critical decisions for your child, it can also impact how you are viewed by non-family members who may contain critical information about your child, such as medical professionals, educators and coaches. It is not uncommon for Missouri parents, without joint legal custody, to have a difficult time gaining access to medical and educational records and information from non-family members who possess this important information. This problem can become larger when the parent with legal custody either attempts to prevent access to these records or simply fails to cooperate in assisting the other parent in gaining access to these records.

medical records.jpgFor these reasons, whether you are awarded joint legal or sole legal custody, it is critical that your parenting plan contain specific language requiring each parent to share information and to direct all medical providers and educators to allow both parents access to their child’s records. If your child has specific medical or educational needs, it is important to consult with your Missouri family law attorney to insure that your Parenting Plan is drafted in a way which clearly mandates that your child’s current and future providers of services give you prompt access to all necessary information regarding the growth and development of your child.

If you have questions about legal custody, or any Missouri family law related issue, you can contact our office today for a free consultation.

Check back to our blog for a future discussion on how your family court judge will decide if an award of sole legal custody or joint legal custody is appropriate in a contested custody matter.

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