With all of the recent news about Michael Jackson’s children and Jon and Kate’s eight children, I’ve been wondering what factors a court looks at to determine who should be taking care of the children. What do I need to do to make sure I don’t lose custody of my children?
Every state has its own set of divorce laws dealing with the care of children. Missouri is no different. In Missouri, as in many other states, these laws refer to the legal and physical custody of children. Custody, unfortunately, is a word that denotes ownership and control of a child and, instead, parents should be focused on how they are going to take care of their children. Missouri courts must determine what child care arrangement is in the children’s best interests. Judges must examine numerous factors including:
- the parents’ wishes
- the needs of the children to have a relationship with both parents
- the willingness of the parents to fulfill their parental roles
- the children’s relationships with siblings, friends, and family
- which parent is likelier to allow the other parent to have meaningful time with the children
- how well the children are adjusted to their current environment
- the mental and physical health of the parents and children
- either parent’s plans to relocate to a different community
- the children’s wishes
Judges are not required to weigh all of these factors equally. For example, the desire to spend more time with Mom as expressed by a five year old child to will not carry the same weight as would those wishes stated by a 15 year old. Judges must also consider the practical aspects of the parents’ situation. If, for example, Dad travels four days a week or Mom is on call for work every weekend, the court will try to figure those issues into a workable plan for the children.
Smart parents will recognize that, once the divorce proceedings are over, they will be engaged in a long-term parenting partnership with their ex-spouse. They would be wise to recognize that they are not helping their children when they express their anger towards the other parent in front of the children. The best thing they can do for their children is to work on a long-term parenting plan that recognizes the value of both parents and that involves both parents as much as possible. After all, children are only as happy as their least happy parent. Try to negotiate a mutually agreeable parenting plan rather than having a judge impose one on you.