Published in Family Law on March 3, 2016
The Equal Custody Law Myth
Many people have heard that Missouri has passed an “equal custody” statute. But, is that really true? We need to separate the fact from the fiction about this new legislation.
What many Missourians do not realize is that the language that actually became law is not the same language that they may have heard on the news. The legislation as it was originally introduced would have defined the term “joint physical custody” as “an order awarding each of the parents approximate and reasonably equal periods of time…” However, the statute passed into law does not contain “approximate and reasonably equal” language from the original bill. Instead, the definition of “joint physical custody” remained the same as under the previous custody statute. Under current law “’joint physical custody’ means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents.” RSMo. § 452.375.1.(3).
So how was the law changed? The custody statute was amended to add the following language: The court shall not presume that a parent, solely because of his or her sex, is more qualified than the other parent to act as a joint or sole legal or physical custodian for the child. RSMo. § 452.375.8.
How will the addition of this new language affect custody decrees in the State of Missouri? This remains to be seen. There are currently no appellate rulings interpreting this new language. However, it is clear that the statute does not require that both parties be given approximately equal parenting times.