Legal Information: Missouri


May 9, 2022

What factors will a judge consider when deciding custody?

If the parents have not reached an agreement on all issues related to custody, it will be up to the judge to decide. When deciding custody, the judge will look at what is in the best interests of the child and will consider all of the following factors:

  • the wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;
  • the needs of the child for a frequent, continuing, and meaningful relationship with both parents;
  • the ability and willingness of both parents to act in a way that considers the needs of the child;
  • the interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
  • the child’s adjustment to his/her home, school, and community;
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved;
  • whether either parent plans to relocate with the child;
  • the child’s wishes as to who should get custody, which could be told to the judge without the parents present;1 and
  • which parent is more likely to allow the child to have frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with the other parent. Note: If either parent has violated the parenting plan without good cause, this will be held against that parent when the judge evaluates this factor.2

Any custody order must include a parenting plan that is submitted by the parties and approved by the judge, or one that is written by the judge if the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan.3

​1 MO ST §§ 452.375(2); 452.385
​2 MO ST §§ 452.375(2); 452.400(7)
3 MO ST § 452.375(9)

Can a parent who committed domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual assault get custody or visitation?

A parent cannot get custody or unsupervised visitation if the parent, or any person who lives with that parent, has been convicted of one of the following crimes where the victim of the crime was a minor:

  1. rape in the 1st degree, 2nd degree;
  2. statutory rape;
  3. sodomy in the 1st degree, 2nd degree;
  4. statutory sodomy in the 1st degree, 2nd degree;
  5. child molestation in the 1st degree, 2nd degree;
  6. sexual misconduct involving a child;
  7. sexual abuse in the 1st degree, 2nd degree;
  8. sex with an animal - the requirement that the victim must be a minor clearly doesn’t apply to this crime;
  9. enticement of a child;
  10. abusing an individual through forced labor;
  11. human trafficking for the purposes of labor or for the purposes of sexual exploitation;
  12. sex trafficking of a child in the 2nd degree;
  13. contributing to human trafficking through the misuse of documents;
  14. trafficking in children;
  15. incest;
  16. abuse or neglect of a child that involves abusive head trauma;
  17. genital mutilation;
  18. child used in sexual performance;
  19. promoting sexual performance by a child.1

If the parent, or someone who lives with the parent, was convicted of any other crime listed in chapter 566 or chapter 568 or a similar crime in another state, where the victim was a minor, the judge can give the parent custody or visitation.2

The judge can deny a parent visitation if, after a hearing, the judge determinates that visitation would endanger the child’s physical health or harm his/her emotional development. The judge must consider evidence of domestic violence; however, the judge could grant visitation to the abusive party if the judge believes it is in the best interests of the child to do so.3 If the judge grants visitation, the judge must:

  1. consider the abusive parent’s history of causing anyone, or the likelihood of causing anyone:
    • physical harm or the fear of physical harm;
    • bodily injury or the fear of bodily injury;
    • assault or the fear of assault; and
  2. make sure that the visitation order will protect the abused parent, the child, and any other children living in the household from any further harm.4

If an abusive parent is granted restricted or supervised visitation, the parent must show proof of treatment and rehabilitation before the judge can change the visitation order to unsupervised visitation.5

1 MO ST §§ 452.375(3); 452.400(1)((2)(a))
2 MO ST §§ 452.375(3); 452.400(1)((2)(b))
3 MO ST § 452.400(1)
4 MO ST § 452.400(1)((3))
5 MO ST § 452.400(2)((3))

My child was conceived from rape. What happens if the offender tries to establish paternity or file for visitation?

If you report the rape to the police and criminal charges are being brought against him, the judge is supposed to automatically put a temporary stop (“stay”) to any paternity proceeding involving the child and the alleged father. This “stay” shall not be lifted until there is a final outcome of the criminal charges. If you deny visitation to the rapist/father while the criminal case is pending, this cannot be used against you in a future custody case when the judge considers which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent.1

1 MO ST § 452.374

WomensLaw serves and supports all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.