As a lawyer practicing in the area of family law, I am intimately familiar with the various ways that child custody can be established because it’s part of what I do for a living. People may want or need to establish child custody for a variety of different reasons. Establishing child custody must be done through the court in order to have any legal meaning. Parents and other people may sometimes reach an agreement between themselves when it comes to spending time with a child, but those agreements are not enforceable when someone decides to change his or her mind. Only court orders are enforceable. And depending on where a person lives, some court orders are easier to enforce than others.
There are generally four ways to establish child custody in Missouri – all of which involve the courts: (1) a divorce, (2) a paternity action, (3) a minor guardianship, and (4) through the juvenile court. Each method of obtaining child custody is different and is governed by different laws. How and when to pursue a child custody case varies depending on the circumstances of the child and/or the parent(s).
Many people have heard of obtaining child custody in a divorce. A detailed discussion of the different ways to obtain child custody will be discussed in future blogs and postings. But simply, a paternity action is required to establish child custody when the parents were not married, i.e. the child was born out of wedlock. A minor guardianship action can be used by grandparents, family members and sometimes even friends to establish child custody where the biological parents may be unwilling, unfit or unable to parent a child. Finally, a juvenile case may be opened to establish child custody where the parents have abused or neglected a child and the child is unable to return to the home as a result of that abuse or neglect.