Gunn Shank & Stover P.C.

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Family Law


If you are going through a divorce proceeding or contemplating a divorce proceeding, you need to take action.

You need to take very good notes as to what is going on in the relationship with your spouse.  Obviously, do not keep these notes where the spouse can find them.  Keep them outside the home.

The basic procedure for a divorce proceeding is that one party files a petition to dissolve the marriage.  This can generally be done in the county where the husband or wife lives (if the parties are separated and live in different counties).  There are, however, various rules as to which county is proper, if there are children.  For example, if the parties separate and if one parent moves to a different county and takes the minor children with him/her, then the original county is the proper county in which to have the divorce filed unless the parent taking the children has lived in the new county for over 90 days, then that county is the proper county.  This can sometimes make a difference in the result of the case, depending on the facts of the case, as various counties tend to lean one way or another in specific types of divorce cases.

CUSTODY:  In determining custody of children, the Missouri legislature has identified at least eight factors that are to be considered in determining custody.  These eight factors are:

1.The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;

2.The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child;

3.The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;

4.With parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;

5.The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school and community;

6.The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of an individual involved;

7.The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and

8.The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian.

The Court can also look at any other “relevant” factor.

The Missouri legislature has determined that the Court’s need to first look at awarding “joint legal custody” and “joint physical custody.”  The idea behind “joint legal custody” is that the parties will co-parent and “jointly” make major decisions regarding the children.  The parent with the child on a given day makes the basic decisions for the child that day.  Many people think that “joint physical custody” means that both parents have the children 50% of the time and then they want “sole physical custody.”  Don’t get hung up on whether you have “sole physical custody” or “Joint physical custody.”  It is just semantics. “Joint physical custody” does not mean that each parent has the children 50% of the time.   There are, however, some situations where if one parent refuses to co-parent then there is a need in those situations to seek “sole legal custody” so that the “good” parent can make most of the decisions for the child.  The Courts, however, favor joint legal custody and “joint physical custody.”  There has to be a good reason to deviate from that arrangement.

It has been proven time and time again that generally children need two parents and both parents need to be responsible in doing their job as a parent and not bicker with the other parent over issues with respect to the children.  However, sometimes people have different parenting skills or different attitudes toward parenting or may neglect or abuse the children.  In these situations, it may be necessary to attempt to limit the time the other parent is able to see the child.  Most judges view these situations as few and far between.  They generally want both parents to be active in the child’s life and try to create a situation to encourage the participation of both parents in the child’s life.

Divorce is very hard on children.  There are certain things that you should or should not do around your children in this situation.  You certainly do not want to put your children in the middle of a divorce proceeding.  You should not make derogatory comments about your spouse in the presence of your children.  You should allow the child to feel that both parents love them.  You should not make promises to your child that you cannot keep.  For example, you should not promise your child, if the child lives with the other parent, that you will come see them on a certain day if you know that you cannot do that.  Children love both parents and children do not typically understand what is going on during a divorce proceeding.  The children are normally confused about what is going on, because their world is being torn apart.  Your child should not be used as a messenger to the other parent.  Your child should not see you and the other parent arguing and fighting during the exchange and you should not force your children to take sides.  It is unfair to them.  You should also assure the child that the divorce is not their fault.  You should listen to their feelings and be aware that the children are going through very difficult times.

In Missouri, the legislature has mandated that parents take “parenting classes”.  This class typically offers very good advice as to what parents should do, pending the divorce proceedings.

There are situations where the court can appoint an attorney (Guardian Ad Litem) for the minor children.  This is usually an attorney practicing in the county in which the case is pending and this individual usually suggests a custody or parenting plan provision for the court.  The Guardian Ad Litem’s opinion typically carries a lot of weight with the court.  It is important to respond quickly to a Guardian Ad Litem.  The Guardian Ad Litem can either be your best friend or can be your worst enemy.

Child support is calculated by the court based on the number of overnights that each parent has with the child, the respective incomes of the parties and the various costs in raising the child (such as daycare costs, health insurance, school activities, etc.).  The costs of child support can be quite substantial if there are daycare costs and if the cost of health insurance is also factored in.