Child Custody orders entered by a court after a divorce are rarely final. Indeed, if after a period of time one of the parents seeks a change in custody arrangements, he or she can do so by petitioning the court. In the Petition, the party must submit a proposed parenting plan for the child. This plan is very detailed.
Once the court receives this petition, the responding party (typically the other parent) must be personally served with process. The respondent will then have an opportunity to consent or refuse to any changes requested to child custody. The next step in the process differs slightly from court to court, but ultimately, in Missouri, a court will only change a prior custody decree if (1) new knowledge or facts previously unknown have arisen, (2) a significant change in the circumstances of the child or the child’s custodian has occurred, or (3) the modification is in the best interests of the child(ren). The court weighs all of these when making its decision, though there generally is some deference given to the prior custody ruling.
Undoubtedly, the most important factor courts consider is the child’s interests. Courts do not want to “uproot” the child and remove him/her out of his/her comfort zone. The child’s wishes, if he or she can express them, are taken into account. Furthermore, Missouri courts strive to keep intact the child’s relationship with his or her natural parents. It is the public policy of Missouri to keep families together as much as possible.
When it comes to filing a modification petition, a court will carefully analyze the facts and apply case precedent. As such, it is important to have an attorney who will advocate for your interests and who can successfully persuade the court that, based on the facts and law, a modification is necessary.