Earlier this month, Governor Nixon signed House Bill 1550 into law which provides for changes that will affect child custody related to divorce, legal separation, paternity and Judgments. This law had been referred to by some people as a “Father’s Rights’ Bill.” The law does not expressly afford fathers any more rights than mothers, but the law does appear to start each parent out on equal footing in addressing child custody.
One of the law changes prohibits courts from adopting any local court rule, or even from continuing a practice, that creates some type of standard schedule for temporary child custody orders or standard schedule for a judgment. While the law does not discuss the type of practice or default schedule it is designed to prevent, some courts in mid-Missouri did have local court rules that could be used as authority to award a parent custody of a child and provide the other parent, often called the “non-custodial parent,” some type of alternating weekend schedule. From a practical perspective, many courts in mid-Missouri had moved away from using local court rules to establish child custody or visitation schedules. Many, but not all, courts in mid-Missouri had already moved away from the practice of affording one parent significantly more time with the child than the other parent.
Notably, the law change does not require that a court order an equal child custody schedule. Rather, notice must be provided to the parents and opportunity for a hearing before the court can make some type of custody schedule. This means that parents will still have to appear in court and present evidence in support of the reason for his or her particular request for custody. While many courts in mid-Missouri have been moving toward a philosophy of equal custody, the parents themselves will have to appear in court and be prepared to argue for equal custody, or alternatively, present evidence why the court should not award an equal custody schedule. A custody battle does not seem to suggest a harmonious co-parenting environment after the divorce. But there are arguments that by allowing parents the opportunity for equal custody, that such a schedule may eliminate one parent from abusing his or her “control” over the other parent.
The law change does not prevent the court from creating a temporary child custody schedule. The law change also does not prevent parents from reaching an agreement as to child custody and a particular schedule. Parents still have the ability to decide their own custody schedules which remain subject to the approval of the court.