Missouri Legislators Consider Bills Advocating for Shared Parenting Time

Two proposals in the Missouri legislature focus on shared parenting time in initial custody determinations. The proposed legislation aims to change the status quo of primary custody to substantially equal parenting time for the benefit of children.

While Missouri family law currently presumes joint legal custody and joint physical custody to be in the best interests of a child when parents get divorced or are separated, according to the Missouri Court System, the law does not currently have a presumption about visitation (now referred to as “parenting time”). As such, courts currently look to a series of statutory factors in determining what type of custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child. Now, however, proposed legislation in the Missouri House and Senate is seeking to change the way courts first think about parenting time. More specifically, Senate Bill 645 and House Bill 1667, which were both recently voted to pass and is scheduled to take effect August 2018, will result in courts beginning from a presumption of approximately equal parenting time.

The proposed legislation is important to many child advocates in Kansas City and throughout the state of Missouri, given that courts currently have broad discretion in awarding custody and parenting time, giving inconsistent results dependent upon the Judge making the decision. Both legal custody and physical custody are ordered when parents get divorced or separate, and both forms of custody can be sole custody or joint custody. As explained by attorneys Lindsey VanFleet and Larry S. Buccero, “Legal custody refers to the parents’ rights and responsibilities with regard to making important decisions for the child, while physical custody refers to the day-to-day caretaking responsibilities and daily decision-making for the child.” As mentioned, while the Missouri Court System does recognize that joint legal custody and joint physical custody often is in the best interest of the child, it does not begin from the presumption that approximately equal parenting time is also in the child’s best interest. That presumption concerning parenting time is what Senate Bill 645 and House Bill 1667 seek to change.

Significant research has been conducted into the benefits for children of shared parenting and joint physical custody. Family law scholars from across the country have conducted studies on shared parenting and the ways in which 50-50 (equal) parenting schedules tend to have the best effects on children. According to an article in the Columbia Tribune, Missouri lawmakers recently heard from a number of these experts, including Dr. Sanford Braver from Arizona State University, who underscored the advantages of shared parenting based on data: “On the basis of evidence . . . social scientists can now cautiously recommend presumptive shared parenting to policymakers.” Dr. Braver went on to argue that “shared parenting now has enough evidence that the burden of proof should now fall to those who oppose it rather than those who promote it.”

In February, House Bill 1667 passed unanimously in the Missouri House Judiciary Committee after three years of advocacy work, including efforts toward a 2016 change to Missouri law that encourages but does not require 50-50 shared parenting time. If the proposed legislation passes, Missouri courts would begin from a rebuttable presumption of shared, equal parenting time and joint custody in Kansas City, Missouri.

Release ID: 319715