Missouri Child Custody Trial: What Happens & How to Prepare

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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

Preparation and Process for a Missouri Child Custody Trial

In the state of Missouri, it is recommended that parents initiate a joint custody agreement before filing an uncontested case or reaching a settlement. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on child custody, the court will proceed to hold a trial to decide. During the trial, both parents may present arguments regarding child support, a parenting plan, the child’s primary residence, and a visitation schedule.

The judge will decide which request to accept or will make different arrangements. Because of the weightiness of this legal process, the parents should hire experienced child custody lawyers to help them.

How Is Child Custody Determined in Missouri?

Child custody laws are governed under Missouri Statutes 452.375. Missouri law usually stipulates that custody be determined based on the child’s interest.

What Will Judges Look for in Child Custody Cases in Missouri?

Judges look at different factors during a child custody trial before deciding who to grant custody to. These factors include:

  • The parenting plan submitted for court approval
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The child’s preference, if old enough to express
  • The child’s school and community ties
  • The quality of each parent’s relationship with the child’s extended family
  • The emotional and physical health of each parent
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a stable and safe living environment
  • Each parent’s ability to meet the child’s emotional and physical needs
  • Each parent’s ability to co-parent and make decisions together
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse
  • Any other relevant circumstances that may impact the child’s well-being

What Are Common Types of Child Custody in Missouri?

In Missouri, custody is categorized into two types: legal custody vs. physical custody. Legal custody involves decisions regarding the child’s education, religion, education, and welfare in general. In contrast, physical custody involves where the child will be living and how much time they will spend with each parent. The two types of custody can be further divided into joint legal and sole legal custody and joint physical and joint sole physical custody.

In joint legal custody cases, both parents have a say in the child’s life and are required to consult each other before making any decision. While in sole legal custody, only one parent can decide the child’s life. In joint physical custody, the child will live with each parent for a specific time, while in sole physical custody, the child will live will only one parent.

What Are the Steps in the Child Custody Process?

There are many steps in a child custody process, including the following:

  1. Opening a case in the family law division of the specific county’s circuit court. The parent that opens the case is called the petitioner, while the other parent is known as a respondent.
  2. The petitioners will notify the respondents via a process known as a service. The other party will have thirty days to respond. If they agree, they can start the settling process, and if they don’t agree, the court will ask them to state the disagreement and their request. The petitioner can seek a default judgment in court if they don’t respond.
  3. The parents will then complete a parental education program based on the court orders.
  4. They can then move to a temporary order hearing before the final order.
  5. The next step is meditation with the help of a neural professional.
  6. After mediation, they will be asked to exchange information and the evidence they have.
  7. The next step is the pre-trial, where the parents and their attorneys speak with the judge about the trial process and issues.
  8. The last step is a trial where they will present their request regarding issues requiring resolution.

How to Prepare For a Custody Trial?

Preparing for a child custody court case in Missouri requires careful consideration and planning. One of the critical elements to consider is undergoing a custody evaluation, which can provide valuable insight into the child’s physical health, emotional well-being, and home life. This information can be used to argue for the child’s best interests in court.

It is essential to gather and present evidence that supports your position as a parent, such as documentation of your physical health and the stability of your home environment. Additionally, if you are seeking sole custody, it is essential to demonstrate that you can provide for the child’s needs and that it is in the child’s best interests for you to be the primary caregiver.

What Happens at a Child Custody Trial?

The parents and their attorneys will present requests and evidence during a trial session. The judge will evaluate the argument before deciding on the final orders, which include the parenting plans, time, schedule, and child support necessities.

Issues that May Arise in a Child Custody Trial

Several child custody issues could come to light in a custody case as it is a sensitive and emotional issue for the parents and the child. The following are the most common issues:


Child Support

Issues may arise with child support if the non-custodial parent fails to provide their part of the agreement concerning the child’s support.



Visitation is when the other parent visits the child; sometimes, issues arise with visitation, especially if plans are not made in advance.


Ex Parte Order

An Ex Parte Order is issued if the petitioner fears harm or child abuse from the other party.


How Long Do Custody Cases Take in Missouri?

The length of a child custody case in Missouri varies and can depend on several factors, such as the case’s complexity, the number of parties involved, and the schedule of the court. Further, deciding on custody arrangements involves the difficult process of allocating primary custody or joint custody. Several factors require discussion, negotiation, and agreement, such as custody preference, where the child lives, visitation rights, etc.

Generally, however, simple uncontested custody cases can be resolved in a matter of weeks, while complex contested cases can take several months or even a year or more to resolve. It is important to remember that each case is unique, and the process length will vary.

How Can a Family Law Attorney Help You in a Custody Case?

When it comes to legal issues, especially child custody, hiring a family law attorney is necessary because they can help get the petitioner or respondent a fair and accurate child support calculation. Moreover, most experienced family law attorneys prioritize the child’s best interest while representing a case. 

At Masterson Law, we pride ourselves in understanding child custody laws in Missouri and will work diligently towards an equitable award in the shortest time possible. Contact us for a free consultation.