Child custody has two distinct types. These types are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the decision-making power of the parent in determining the health, education, religion, and welfare of the minor child. Physical custody is the assignment of parenting time with the minor child. Both legal and physical custody can be further subdivided into sole or joint custody. Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the decision-making power in regards to the child’s education, religion, health, and welfare. Joint legal custody is when the parents make the decisions together. Sole physical custody means that one parent is the primary custodian of the child and the other parent has limited parental time. One example of sole physical custody is when one parent has custodial time every other weekend. Joint physical custody means that the parents share the custodial time but does not necessarily mean equally shared time. Courts prefer joint legal and joint physical custody.
The court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to represent the best interests of the minor child in the proceeding if deemed necessary. However, a Guardian ad Litem will automatically be appointed when one of the parents allege abuse or neglect of the child. The Guardian ad Litem will meet with the parents and the child, depending upon the age of the child. The Guardian ad Litem will participate in all court hearings and settlement conferences that occur during the pendency of the case. The Guardian ad Litem may present evidence at trial and cross-examine all witnesses. Once a final determination is made as to child custody, visitation, and support, the Court will order the parties to pay for the Guardian ad Litem fees in an equitable fashion.
When determining child custody, the Court must determine what is in the child’s best interests. Each party may have a different view as to what is best for the child. The Court will look to various factors when determining the best interest of the child. These factors include, but are not limited to, each party’s ability to properly parent the child, the parties’ ability to confer with each other regarding child-related issues, and the Guardian ad Litem’s recommendation. The Court is interested in the child’s opinion as to where he or she would like to live; however, the Court must make all decisions based upon the best interest test.
Along with deciding child custody, the Court will order child support. In the State of Missouri, child support is calculated by use of a child support calculation form, called Form 14. The Form 14 calculates the child support amount based upon the parties’ gross income, child care costs, possibly extraordinary costs of the child, and healthcare costs. Further, the form takes into consideration how many overnights the child spends with each party. The maximum overnight visitation credit allowed is 50%. The Court will order one of the parties to maintain health insurance for the child. Further, the Court can make a determination as to how extraordinary expenses, out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, and private school or college expenses are to be paid. Finally, the Court will determine how the child dependency exemption is allocated each tax year.