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The multiple meanings of custody in Missouri

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What are the factors judges consider when deciding a Missouri child custody case?

Cordell & Cordell St. Louis divorce lawyer Heather Biagi said she frequently handles initial consultations where the person isn’t always clear on how “custody” is defined.

In Missouri, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is considered “decision-making” custody, though it’s not day-to-day decisions that are usually determined by the parent who has the child in their custody.

Joint legal custody includes major life decisions for the child, according to Biagi, such as education, religious, medical, and other “big life decisions.”

When you have joint legal custody in the state of Missouri, you have 50-50 decision-making power with the other parent regarding your children.

“The standard is the court will likely grant joint legal custody,” Biagi said. “But it all hinges on the ability of the parents to communicate so keep that in mind when determining what kind of legal custody you're looking for in your divorce.”

As to physical custody, there is sole physical custody and joint physical custody. Biagi cautions that “joint physical custody” does not necessarily mean actual 50-50 parenting time.

The definition of joint physical custody is just a substantial amount of time with the child, which can be less than an even 50-50 split.

“So when you meet with a St. Louis child custody lawyer and say ‘I want custody of my child,’ you need to keep in mind that you’re talking about two different types of custody: legal and physical,” Biagi said. “Think about what custody arrangement you’re actually looking for before speaking to an attorney.”

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