Written by attorney Margaret P. Murphy

Missouri: What is Legal Custody?

What is legal custody? When most clients come in they know what kind of physical custody they are looking to enjoy with their children. Many though do not realize that physical custody is not the only kind of custody available. Legal custody covers major decision making responsibilities affecting the children including religious education, choice of schools, tutoring, cultural education, extracurricular activities, health care, etc. Parents can be awarded joint or sole legal custody of their children. However, each parent shall make decisions regarding day-to-day care of the children and in emergencies affecting the health and safety of the children while he/she is the responsible parent. Further both parents should try to be consistent with each other in day to day decisions and discipline of the children.

Legal custody covers several different areas. The first area is the agreement by both parents that the needs of the children for a continuing relationship with each parent is their priority. To facilitate this, both Father and Mother shall use their best effort to foster the respect, love and affection of the children toward the other parent and shall cooperate fully in implementing a relationship with the children that will give the children a maximum feeling of security. The Court orders and believes that both parents should promote a relationship with the other parent. Each parent recognizes that the best interest of the children requires that he/she allow the children to love the other parent. The parents shall cooperate so that the children shall have regular and frequent contact with the other parent so that the children and parents shall have affection and respect for each other. Mother and Father each agree to take no action which would demean the other and agree to set aside any issues and feeling of antipathy and marital discord toward the other for the sake of rearing psychologically healthy children.

Further, legal custody asks parents to work together to further their child’s education and decisions about school. Each parent shall notify the other of any activity such as school conferences, programs, parties, field trips, etc. where parents are invited to attend. The presence of each at such functions shall be encouraged and welcomed by the other.

The Court encourages parents to go beyond even communication by asking each parent to also notify the other parent of the unusual performance of the children, whether good or bad, on any project, test, quiz or homework assignment and any important communications from school regarding attendance, behavior, grades, etc. Each parent agrees to assist as is necessary with homework. Further, both parents recognize that each of them has the responsibility of contacting teachers and counselors as required by the children’s education and development, and the desirability of making those contacts together if possible. Parents agree to provide each other with information described above by telephone as soon as reasonable or in person.

For some parents, the above requests for communication are almost impossible. The Court system has come up with a unique idea to guide parents through joint legal custody without verbal communication. This idea is implemented by a legal custody notebook.

With a legal custody notebook,the parties shall exchange legal custody information onthe following basis: for all emergency or immediate legal custody issues which need to becommunicated between the parties (all occurrences, appointments, events, etc. which will occur prior to the next scheduled custody exchange) shall be immediately communicated to the other party as soon aspossible by telephone. Mother and Father shall each own and have available to the otherparty a cell phone number so that the parties may call each other regarding immediate legal custodyissues. For all non-emergency or non-immediate legal custody issues which will occur after the nextcustody exchange, the parties shall keep a legal custody notebook which will be passed back and forthbetween the parties at all custody exchanges and which will be updated for each custody period. Thelegal custody notebook will contain each current month and the three (3) months prior.

Both parties shall make a copy of all medical documents regarding the minor children or medical bills received by each party during their custody period and shall place a photocopy of said documents and bills in the Legal Custody Notebook to be given to the other parent at every custody exchange. All requests for reimbursement on uninsured medical expenses and/or extracurricular activities shall be made by the parties in the Legal Custody Notebook within thirty (30) days ofpayment of such an expense. Reimbursement shall be placed and noted in the Legal Custody Notebook within thirty (30) days of the expense being placed in the legal custody notebook.

Mother or Father shall purchase the legal custody notebook within 24 hours. Such a notebook shall bea three ring binder filled with lined notebook paper. Once the page is full, the party making the nextentry shall place the page number following the prior page number at the top of each new page. Mothershall keep all pages for odd numbered months and Father for even numbered months. Each shall give the other copies of their month by the end of the following month (i.e. Mother shall give January copies to Father by the end of February). Each shall replenish the paper for monththat they keep the originals (i.e. Mother will replenish the paper used in January).

There are several other legal notebooking options available through the Internet. One of the more popular is the divorce wizard. Sharing joint legal custody allows both parents hands on decision making for their children, as well as the opportunity to begin working with the other parent on their children’s future.

Additional resources provided by the author

Missouri Revised Statutes, Missouri case law

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Avvo child custody email series

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