The following is a summary of Missouri child custody laws, and is by no means intended to be an all-inclusive description of what to expect in your particular case. In some cases, the exact text of the statute may have been simplified and/or modified to provide for easier understanding. For a more specific understanding of the laws, you should consult the full Missouri Code and/or consult with an attorney about how the law might apply to your particular situation.


As used in this chapter, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

  1. Custody” means joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody or sole physical custody or any combination thereof.
  2. Joint legal custody” means that the parents share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education and welfare of the child, and, unless allocated, apportioned, or decreed, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority.
  3. Joint physical custody” means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents.

-From Section 452.375 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Legal Custodian.

Except as otherwise ordered by the court or agreed by the parties in writing at the time of the custody decree, the legal custodian may determine the child’s upbringing, including his education, health care, and religious training, unless the court after hearing finds, upon motion by the parent without legal custody, that in the absence of a specific limitation of the legal custodian’s authority the child’s physical health would be endangered or his emotional development impaired.

The legal custodian shall not exercise legal custody in such a way as to significantly and detrimentally impact the other parent’s visitation or custody rights.

-From Section 452.405 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Best Interests of the Child, Custody Guidelines.

The general assembly finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state that frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage is in the best interest of the child, except for cases where the court specifically finds that such contact is not in the best interest of the child, and that it is the public policy of this state to encourage parents to participate in decisions affecting the health, education and welfare of their children, and to resolve disputes involving their children amicably through alternative dispute resolution. In order to effectuate these policies, the court shall determine the custody arrangement which will best assure both parents participate in such decisions and have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with their children so long as it is in the best interests of the child.

The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including:

  1. The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;
  2. The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child;
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  4. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;
  5. The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community;
  6. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;
  7. The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and
  8. The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian.

The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, RSMo, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.

-From Section 452.375 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Child’s Wishes as to Custodian.

The court may interview the child in chambers to ascertain the child’s wishes as to his custodian and relevant matters within his knowledge. The court shall permit counsel to be present at the interview and to participate therein. The court shall cause a record of the interview to be made and to be made part of the record in the case.

-From Section 452.385 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Access to Records.

Unless a parent has been denied custody rights or visitation rights, both parents shall have access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, dental, and school records. If the parent without custody has been granted restricted or supervised visitation because the court has found that the parent with custody or any child has been the victim of domestic violence by the parent without custody, the court may order that the reports and records made available pursuant to this subsection not include the address of the parent with custody or the child.

-From Section 452.375 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Relocation of Minor Child.

Notice of a proposed relocation of the residence of the child, or any party entitled to custody or visitation of the child, shall be given in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested, to any party with custody or visitation rights. Absent exigent circumstances as determined by a court with jurisdiction, written notice shall be provided at least 60 days in advance of the proposed relocation. The notice of the proposed relocation shall include the following information:

  1. The intended new residence, including the specific address and mailing address, if known, and if not known, the city;
  2. The home telephone number of the new residence, if known;
  3. The date of the intended move or proposed relocation;
  4. A brief statement of the specific reasons for the proposed relocation of a child, if applicable; and
  5. A proposal for a revised schedule of custody or visitation with the child, if applicable.

A party required to give notice of a proposed relocation has a continuing duty to provide a change in or addition to the above information as soon as such information becomes known.

In exceptional circumstances where the court makes a finding that the health or safety of any adult or child would be unreasonably placed at risk by the disclosure of the required identifying information concerning a proposed relocation of the child, the court may order that:

  1. The specific residence address and telephone number of the child, parent or person, and other identifying information shall not be disclosed in the pleadings, notice, other documents filed in the proceeding or the final order except for an in camera disclosure;
  2. The notice requirements provided by this section shall be waived to the extent necessary to protect the health or safety of a child or any adult; or
  3. Any other remedial action the court considers necessary to facilitate the legitimate needs of the parties and the best interest of the child.

The court shall consider a failure to provide notice of a proposed relocation of a child as:

  1. A factor in determining whether custody and visitation should be modified;
  2. A basis for ordering the return of the child if the relocation occurs without notice; and
  3. Sufficient cause to order the party seeking to relocate the child to pay reasonable expenses and attorneys fees incurred by the party objecting to the relocation.

The party seeking to relocate shall have the burden of proving that the proposed relocation is made in good faith and is in the best interest of the child.

-From Section 452.377 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Withholding Visitation.

If a party fails to comply with a provision of a decree or temporary order or injunction, the obligation of the other party to make payments for support or maintenance or to permit visitation is not suspended but he may move the court to grant an appropriate order.

A court with jurisdiction may abate, in whole or in part, any past or future obligation of support and may transfer the physical and legal or physical or legal custody of one or more children if it finds that a parent has, without good cause, failed to provide visitation or physical and legal or physical or legal custody to the other parent pursuant to the terms of a judgment of dissolution, legal separation or modifications thereof.

-From Sections 452.340 and 452.365 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.

Jurisdiction Over Children.

In order for a court to decide custody of your children, whether by agreement of the spouses or by decision of the court, that court must have jurisdiction. In order to have jurisdiction, one of the following must apply:

  1. The state of Missouri is the home state of the child at the time of commencement of the proceeding, or the state of Missouri was the child’s home state within six months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state for any reason, and a parent or person acting as parent continues to live in the state of Missouri.
    1. Home state” means the state in which, immediately preceding the filing of custody proceeding, the child lived with his parents, a parent, an institution; or a person acting as parent, for at least six consecutive months; or, in the case of a child less than six months old, the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. Periods of temporary absence of any of the named persons are counted as part of the six-month or other period.
  2. It is in the best interest of the child that a court of the state of Missouri assume jurisdiction because:
    1. The child and his parents, or the child and at least one litigant, have a significant connection with the state of Missouri; and
    2. There is available in the state of Missouri substantial evidence concerning the child’s present or future care, protection, training, and personal relationships; or
  3. The child is physically present in the state of Missouri and:
    1. The child has been abandoned; or
    2. It is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because he has been subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse, or is otherwise being neglected; or
  4. It appears that no other state would have jurisdiction, or another state has declined to exercise jurisdiction on the ground that the state of Missouri is the more appropriate forum to determine the custody of the child, and it is in the best interest of the child that Missouri assume jurisdiction.

Please note: If you aren’t sure whether the state of Missouri would have jurisdiction over you or your child(ren), you should consult an attorney.

-From Sections 452.445 and 452.450 of the Missouri Revised Statutes.


This information has been summarized from the Missouri statutes. You can find the full-text version of these and other Missouri divorce statutes online here: Missouri Divorce Laws.




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