Determining child custody is one of the most critical aspects of any divorce or separation involving children. In Missouri, the court's primary concern in making this determination is the child's best interest. As an experienced Missouri family law attorney, I will guide you through the process of child custody determination in the state.

Petition for Child Custody

The process of determining child custody in Missouri begins with the filing of a petition in court. This petition can be part of a divorce proceeding or a standalone action in cases where the parents were never married. It includes pertinent information such as the child's name, parents' names, the current living situation, and the desired custody arrangement.

Service and Response

After filing, the petition must be served to the other parent, giving them the opportunity to respond. If the other parent contests the proposed custody arrangement, a court hearing is scheduled.

Parenting Plan

Missouri law requires parents involved in a custody dispute to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court. This plan outlines proposed arrangements for custody, visitation, and child support. It also includes plans for dispute resolution and how future changes or modifications to the plan will be handled.

Custody Evaluation

In contested cases, the court may order a custody evaluation. A neutral third party, often a social worker or psychologist, conducts this evaluation. They will observe the interactions between the child and each parent, assess the child's living conditions, and consider any factors relevant to the child's well-being.

Court Hearing

If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, the case will proceed to a court hearing. Both parents will present their arguments, and the judge will consider all information, including the custody evaluation, to make a determination.

Factors Considered in Custody Determination

In all child custody cases, Missouri courts prioritize the child's best interest. Factors considered include the wishes of the child (if they are of a sufficient age to express a preference), the parents' wishes, the child's adjustment to their home, school, and community, and the mental and physical health of all parties involved.


Determining child custody can be a complex and emotional process. However, understanding how the process works can help parents navigate the legal landscape. As an experienced Missouri family law attorney, I am committed to providing comprehensive guidance during this challenging time.