What Is the Difference Between Legal And Physical Child Custody in Missouri?

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As you prepare to enter family court for the first time, you may see references to legal and physical custody. It may surprise you to learn that Missouri has two types of custody. They give parents the authority for different things. It is important to understand the differences as you create a custody order so that you know what to do once your order is in place.

What are the differences between legal and physical custody in Missouri?

Legal custody in Missouri is which parent or parents make significant decisions about the child’s upbringing. Physical custody deals with where the child spends their time. Each type of custody may be sole or joint. In addition, parents may share legal custody even if one parent has sole physical custody.

What is the Missouri law for legal and physical custody?

Missouri law § 452.375 defines custody and the two types of custody. Legal custody is decision-making rights over the child’s health, education, and welfare. Physical custody has to do with where the child spends their time. Courts may award joint legal and physical custody, or they may award sole legal or physical custody to one parent.

Does custody have to be exactly equal for parents to have joint physical custody?

A parent has physical custody any time that they have significant periods of time that they care for the child. The split of time does not have to be exactly equal for joint custody to be in place. Missouri law § 452.375(3) defines joint physical custody as an arrangement where the child has frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents.

What does sole legal custody mean in Missouri?

Sole legal custody in Missouri means that one parent makes the major decisions for the minor child. The parent with sole legal custody has the authority to determine:

  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Religion

When a parent has sole legal custody, they have final decision making authority, even if the decision is significant.

Who makes day-to-day decisions when parents have joint legal custody?

The parent who is physically caring for the child at the time makes routine or everyday decisions. These are decisions like what to have for dinner, what time to go to bed, and activities throughout the day. Parents should aim for consistency, but when a parent is exercising physical custody, they make the daily decisions regarding care and routine.

Examples of sole and joint legal and physical custody decision

Perhaps the best way to understand sole and joint custody is to look at a few examples.

Legal Custody Decisions

  • Should the child attend School A, School B, or School C?
  • Is it appropriate for the child to receive a certain medication or vaccine?
  • What religion should the child be instructed in?
  • Does the child need mental health or psychiatric care?
  • Who should be the child’s daycare provider?
  • Is it time to change dentists?
  • Where should a teenage child work?

Physical Custody Decisions

  • What time should the child go to bed?
  • Does the child need to take a jacket to school today?
  • Should we have chicken or pasta for dinner?
  • Are we going to the park today?
  • Are those shoes appropriate for the weather?
  • Should the child have a certain babysitter for the next three hours?
  • Can a teenage child stay out past their usual curfew?

Note: A parent may seek emergency health care for a child in their physical care when it is urgent. The other parent should be contacted and involved as soon as possible.

Attorneys for Legal and Physical Custody

Do you need help with your child custody case? Our attorneys represent individuals in divorce and custody cases. We can also help you modify or enforce an existing custody order. Contact our attorneys today to talk about your case.

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816-479-5898

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