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Divorce: Third-Party Child Custody

The Missouri Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in Bowers v. Bowers, No. SC965435, upholding a trial’s court decision to award child custody to a person in a divorce who was not the biological parent of the child. This type of child custody award is called third-party child custody. Missouri presumes that parents should have custody of their children. Yet, third-party child custody can be awarded in a divorce where the biological parents are  unfit,  unsuitable or unable to care for their child.

In this case, the mother of the child broke off her relationship with the biological father of the child before the child was born. She then began a relationship with a new man. Mother encouraged this man to sign a paternity affidavit when the child was born and put his name on the child’s birth certificate. Mother later married this man. She held this man, her husband, out to be the father of the child. Husband subsequently filed for divorce from mother. The child’s biological father intervened in the divorce also claiming custody rights over the child. Ultimately, the divorce court awarded custody of the child to the Husband, even though he was not the biological parent of the child.

The court noted that Husband, “even though not the biological parent of the child, was not some man that just happened to come along who had a connection with the child. Husband raised the child as his own child for years at mother’s invitation.”  The child considered the Husband to be his father. The child’s therapist testified at trial concerning the bond between Husband and the child. The child’s therapist testified “that severing the relationship between Husband and the child would be ‘psychologically destructive’ to the child’s emotional development.”

For more information regarding divorce and child custody, please contact Scott Hamblin at

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