Although many men work off the assumption that they will not get a fair shake in the legal system, there is actually no presumption in Missouri that a mother is automatically entitled to sole custody. The tender years doctrine (a doctrine that provided that custody of children under 13-years of age should be awarded to mothers) has long been abolished in Missouri.
Instead, Missouri law has a presumption of joint custody. When the facts of a case call for it, courts can and do award joint or sole custody to men based on the principle of what is in the best interest of the child. While in some instances courts seem to still follow the abolished tender years doctrine and lean toward the mother having custody, this is not the law. Men today have a greater ability today obtain joint or sole custody than they have in the past if the facts call for it.
If you have an extremely hectic work schedule, travel often and the mother has been the primary caretaker for the children, then sole physical custody may not be likely (unless the mother is incapable of or derelict in caring for the children). However, if you have played an active role in parenting the children, caring for their needs, attending medical appointments, attending school functions and PTA meetings, then the Courts will look at the history and may determine that joint or even full custody should be awarded to you.
It is important that men seeking joint or fully custody help themselves by being practical and not working off the assumption that they will not get a fair shake. Such an assumption can cause a father to appear angry and cynical, which is not helpful in court proceedings. Instead, men should be optimistic and look toward practical solutions for bettering their case, including some of the following: (a) having adequate housing for the children; (b) living in a good school district; (c) having a work schedule that makes joint or sole custody plausible; (d) exhibiting patience and an even temperament (and avoiding what we call a “bar fight” mentality); (e) complying with all court orders; and (f) making a positive impression with the judge and the guardian ad litem, if one is appointed.
A guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to represent the children. It is imperative that a father in any custody case make a positive impression with the guardian ad litem. Although each judge will make and independent analysis of the case before them in determining custody arrangements, judges often rely heavily on a guardian ad litem’s recommendation and it is usually an uphill battle if the guardian ad litem does not support your cause.
Candidly, not every dad is going to get exactly equal time or sole custody with his children. However, every father should have an equal right to custody. The attorneys at Stange Law Firm believe in this principal. In representing many men in custody battles, that involve divorce, paternity and motions to modify, our goal is to help fathers prepare and present a reasonable case for joint or sole custody. It is imperative that fathers follow the advice of their attorney in seeking sole or joint custody.