Divorce, Child Custody and Child Visitation Guidelines in Missouri

In Missouri, the expressions “father and mother”, “parent”, “child”, are defined broadly;, the terms … shall apply to children born out of wedlock and to children born in wedlock, and the terms “father and mother”, “parent”, “child”, shall apply without reference to whether a child was born in lawful wedlock.  The court is very firm in its definitions that between the parents of a child, no preference may be given to either parent in the awarding of custody because of that parent’s age, sex, or financial status, nor because of the age or sex of the child.


  • If you are an unmarried mother and you have full custody of your child(ren), there may still be occasions when you may need a written custody court order documenting your parental rights.  In Missouri, you able to file, a petition for determination of custody or visitation rights.
  • If you are an unmarried father, in order to request custody or parental visitation time, you must first establish paternity.  This may be done by voluntarily signing the infant’s actual birth certificate or voluntarily executing a paternity affidavit.  If you are seeking to establish or determine parentage of a child, you may file a paternity petition to obtain assistance from the court.  In doing so, the court may require that the child, the mother or an alleged father submit to genetic testing.

Parties who are married at the time of an infant’s birth have both legal and physical custody of their child.  However, in Missouri, should you choose to legally separate or proceed with a divorce, you may file a petition for dissolution of marriage and parenting plan.  In Missouri, the parenting plan is mandatory.  The option does exist; however, for parents to alter the plan by jointly agreeing in writing to the parental visitation terms.


Missouri courts highly encourage frequent and continuous contact between the child and both parents so long as it serves the best interests of the child.   A Missouri circuit family court determines custody based on the “best interests of the child.”   If the parties have not agreed to a custodial arrangement, or the court determines such arrangement is not in the best interest of the child, the court may include a written finding in its order and decision.

If you have a previous divorce decree or custody order in Missouri, and you have a situation where you may need to ask the court to review your present situation, you are required under Missouri law to file a custody petition.  In order for the court to modify the terms of a pre-existing custody order, there must be a continuing and substantial change in the circumstances of the child or the child’s parental custodian.  The modification requested must be necessary to serve the best interests of the child.  The Court looks seriously (and requires) that new facts must have developed since the prior order.  For example, if either parent of a child changes his/her  residence  — either a significant distance from the other party — or even to another state —  such change of residence is deemed “a change of circumstances.”  Therefore, the Missouri court would most likely modify a prior visitation or custody decree.


If you reside outside of the state of Missouri and possess a child custody determination issued by a court of another state, that order may be registered in Missouri.  You can do so by providing the Court with two certified copies of the order and requesting in writing that the order be filed and adopted by the Missouri court having jurisdiction over the minor child(ren)


In Missouri, any court order for the custody of, or visitation with, a child may include a provision that the sheriff or other law enforcement officer shall enforce the rights of any person to custody or visitation. If such a provision has not been included in the court’s order, and the other parent is not obeying or cooperating with your parental rights and visitation schedule, you can request the Court’s assistance by filing a petition for expedited enforcement of a child custody determination.

Note:  The foregoing information is provided as general family law guidelines in Missouri and should not be considered as legal advice specific to your case.  After reviewing the above material, you will be presented with the opportunity to submit more details specific to your case directly to About The Children.

About the author: Linda O’Marie – Consulting Paralegal, MO


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Posted in Child Custody, Child Visitation, Divorce

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