At what age can my children decide who they want to live with?

A common misconception is that there is a magic age when children can simply tell a judge they want to live with one parent over the other, and that is the end of the case.  This is not true.  A child’s wishes as to who her custodian would be is one of eight factors a court must consider in making a custody decision.  A custody order must be in the child’s best interest.  What a child wishes may be contrary to that child’s best interest.  A Parenting Plan is not required for children 18 and over, so it could be said that the answer to this question is 18.

what age can my children decide who they want to live with

It is usually best to avoid discussing with the child where he or she wants to live.  Children most often love both parents, no matter how bad one or both may be.  Asking them to say where they want to live puts too much pressure on most children, and actually could end up damaging your  relationship with them.

Can I get full custody of my children?

There is no such thing as “full custody” in the State of Missouri.  Custody is made up of two parts:  legal and physical.  Legal custody involves who has the right to make decisions for the children and be informed about the children.  Physical custody involves where the children spend their time.  Under each of these types of custody you have either joint or sole.

Generally someone wanting full custody really means that they do not want the other parent to see the children and/or do not want the other parent to have any say in how the children are raised.  In these cases you would actually be asking for sole legal and sole physical custody without visitation.  This arrangement is rare, but does occur in some circumstances.  The vast majority of people end up with some form of joint legal and joint physical custody.

What is joint custody of the children?

Joint physical custody does not mean equal time for each parent, although it can mean this for some families.  Joint physical custody means that each parent will have significant and meaningful time with the children.   How that time is arranged varies widely depending on the needs of the particular family.  Joint legal custody means that each parent gets to have input on decisions made for the children.  Courts are required to consider awarding the parties joint legal and joint physical custody first. All custody decisions are made based upon the best interests of the children.

What is a normal visitation schedule?

A basic parenting plan allows the non-residential parent to have parenting time on alternating weekends, one evening during the week, a portion of the summer, and alternating holidays.  However, many times parties end up with a schedule that is different than this.  The guiding principle in determining a custody schedule is the best interests of your children. The best parenting plan is one that can be worked out between the parents, taking into consideration the children’s ages, the children’s school and extracurricular activity schedules, the parents’ work schedules and any other factors that affect  your children.

As an aside, the Missouri Court of Appeals holds that if the parties have joint physical custody, it is not correct to refer to the contact schedule as visitation.  Rather, both parties have custody.




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