Domestic Violence and Child Custody in Missouri

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Summer Masterson-Goethals

Summer Masterson-Goethals
Consumer and family lawyer, former legal aid attorney and Missouri Bar Leadership Academy member, Springfield Business Journal 40 under 40 Honoree.

Summer Masterson Goethals

Domestic Violence Laws Missouri

In Missouri, domestic violence affects child custody. Usually, courts seek to protect children from abuse and provide them with a safe environment.

This article explores how domestic violence affects child custody in Missouri. 


What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence describes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and threatening actions such as stalking and controlling the abused person. It can be perpetrated against children, family members, intimate partners, former spouses, and other household members.

In cases involving children, family court judges will need to decide on custody arrangements in the determination of the child’s best interest.


Custody Arrangements

Depending on how child custody arrangements are decided, the following outcomes could occur:

  • Joint legal custody: One parent lives with the child, although both parents make collective decisions about the child’s welfare.

  • Joint physical custody: One parent makes decisions about the child, while the non-custodial parent only gets visitation rights.

  • Sole physical custody: One parent makes decisions about the child’s welfare and lives with them.

  • Third-party custody: The court grants custody to a grandparent or another relative who is not the child’s parent.

Is Domestic Violence a Felony?

Domestic violence could be a felony under Missouri law if it causes serious physical injury to the victim or causes death. Domestic assault resulting in injury is a Class D felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison. Violence resulting in serious physical injury or death is a Class B felony, punishable by 10-30 years or life in prison.

In Missouri, domestic violence against a child is considered child abuse and a felony offense. Penalties can include imprisonment for several years, fines, mandatory counseling and parenting classes, and losing custody or visitation rights with the child. Additionally, a person convicted of child sexual abuse may be required to register as a sex offender.

What Happens When a Child is the Victim of Domestic Violence in Missouri?

In Missouri, when a child is the victim of domestic violence, the Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services will typically investigate to determine whether the child is safe and whether abuse or neglect has occurred.

If the child is found to be in danger, the division will take steps to protect the child, such as removing the child from the home or filing for an order of protection.

Procedures that are followed can include:

  • Interviewing the child and any other individuals who have information about the alleged abuse or neglect

  • Visiting the child’s home to observe the living conditions and the child’s interactions with family members

  • Reviewing any relevant records, such as medical records or school records

  • Consulting with other professionals, such as law enforcement, medical professionals, or mental health professionals, as needed

While the Children’s Division is responsible for conducting investigations, Missouri law enforcement also has the authority to investigate and make arrests in child abuse cases.

In Missouri, one can report abuse using various means, including the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233) and the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline (1-800-392-3738).

Can a Parent Accused of Domestic Violence Have Access to or Custody of a Child?

In determining custody arrangements, the court will consider the safety and well-being of the child as a primary concern.

In these cases, the court may order limited or supervised visitation or deny visitation altogether if it determines that it is not in the child’s best interest to have contact with the accused parent.

If the investigation finds that the child is not safe, the division may take the following steps to remove the child from immediate danger:

  • Placement of the child in a foster home or another safe living arrangement

  • Filing for an emergency custody order

  • Obtaining an order of protection for the child

A parent accused of domestic violence may not have access to or custody of a child if the court finds that it would not be in the child’s best interest.

It is important to note that child custody laws and regulations may vary by the local jurisdiction. Therefore, it’s best to consult with experienced family lawyers for specific information about the procedures and safeguards to protect children in Missouri.

How to Get Sole Custody of a Child?

If your child is at risk of harm, proof of domestic and sexual violence could help you get sole custody. In addition, you should be able to prove that you can provide a good and stable environment for the child. 

The court could issue temporary custody if there is evidence of violence. It could also give reasonable visitation rights to the abusive parent if it is in the child’s best interest. However, with strong evidence, it is unlikely for the court to grant unsupervised visitation to a parent accused of domestic violence.

In cases where joint custody is recommended, the court could require you and your partner to devise a parenting plan to show how you will share custody amicably and provide for the child’s needs.

Who Pays Child Support in Cases of Abuse?

Missouri child support laws stipulate that both parents should participate in child support. However, if a parent loses their parental rights, they are not required to pay child support. If you have issues relating to child support, contact child support services.

The court could determine how both parents meet the child’s needs. In cases of split child support, the court could determine how much each parent contributes. A parent who fails to provide child support or abandons a child for at least six months could lose parental privileges.

If you cannot agree on child support, you could seek child support orders from a court to ensure that the other parent adequately provides for your child. The local Department of Social Services could also help with child support enforcement.

Talking to child custody lawyers could offer relief from figuring everything out alone. They could also help answer questions such as: How is child support calculated in Missouri?

How to File for Emergency Child Custody?

If you need emergency child custody due to domestic violence, you must fill out an order of protection. You will give a detailed description of the abuse. Personal details such as address are not needed.

You will then file it with the Circuit Clerk’s Office. The judge could issue an Ex Parte order on the same day. Law enforcement will serve the abusive partner with the Ex Parte Order.


How Can Materson Law Help?

Suffering abuse under someone close to you can be stressful. It is even more stressful if you are unsure of your child’s safety. Working with child custody lawyers will help you navigate these complex and difficult issues.

Masterson Law has a reputation for being a caring and listening partner for her clients. We are also good at advocating for our client’s rights. Contact us today to schedule an appointment where you can speak to one of our lawyers.