On August 28, 2023, Missouri Senate Bill 35 became law, which changed several aspects of Missouri’s child custody laws. The law changes how child custody decisions are made during divorce or separation proceedings. But, what does this mean for your custody case?
One of the most significant changes brought about by Senate Bill 35 is the presumption of equal parenting time. This means that the court will start with the assumption that both parents should be awarded equal time with their children. However, this presumption is not absolute, and the court will still consider custody factors to determine what is in the best interests of the child. Practically, the law change is having little impact on custody cases in central Missouri because many judges had adopted a similar judicial philosophy prior to the law’s enactment.
Despite the presumption of equal parenting time, the court is still guided by the custody factors upon which the best interests of the child are determined. The best interest of the child remains the court’s primary concern. The courts must consider several factors to determine what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests. There are several expressly enumerated factors:
The court can also consider other relevant evidence in determining custody.
Senate Bill 35 encourages the courts to enter orders creating temporary parenting plans. A parenting plan is a document that serves several purposes. One of the most important purposes of a parenting plan is to set out a custody or visitation schedule that allows a child to spend time with both parents. The parenting plan also affects the life of the child, not just custody. Other provisions may address where a child custody exchange occurs, where a child will attend school, which parent will make health and medical appointments, which parent will provide health insurance for the child, and whether either parent shall pay child support. A temporary parenting plan is temporary in nature, which means it can be changed. The temporary parenting plan can later be changed. The temporary parent plan might be changed if the parents are able to later agree to a resolution. If the parents are unable to reach an agreement, then the court will make the final decision as to the child custody schedule after a trial.
Missouri Senate Bill 35 represents a significant shift in the state’s approach to child custody. While it starts with a presumption of equal parenting time, it emphasizes the importance of considering the best interests of the child in custody decisions. This legislation encourages courts to create temporary parenting plans to establish custody rights without having to wait until a final hearing.
As with any major legislative change, it is essential for parents and legal professionals to fully understand the implications of Senate Bill 35 and how it may impact child custody cases in Missouri. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney can help parents navigate these changes and make informed decisions that prioritize the well-being of their children.
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