Child Custody

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St. Louis Child Custody Lawyers

Helping Our Clients Fight for Child Custody in St. Charles County & St. Louis County for 50+ Years

Few legal disputes are as emotionally charged as child custody matters. At Cavanagh & Associates, we act in the best interests of our clients and their children. Our St. Louis child custody attorney will guide you through the custody process, so you know what to expect.

When faced with a difficult family law matter, you can put your trust in Cavanagh & Associates - Attorney Jack Cavanagh has more than 50 years of legal experience handling a wide range of family law cases. Attorney Cavanagh is a member of several prestigious and professional associations including The Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, St. Louis County Bar Association, and The Missouri bar.

For help resolving conflict regarding the custody of your children, please contact our St. Louis child custody attorney today at (314) 309-2799 to schedule your initial consultation. 

Child Custody in Missouri

mother with child

Across the state of Missouri, as in other states, all courts ascribe to the legal principle of “the best interests of the child.” These are the determining factors that play a role in deciding custody. The best possible arrangement is

Here are other important factors:

  • The child’s safety and emotional needs
  • The child’s education and medical needs
  • The need to maintain stability and continuity in the child’s life
  • How well each parent can agree on co-parenting their child
  • The need to maintain relationships with siblings, grandparents, and other close family members
  • If one or the other parent has problems with drug or alcohol abuse
  • If one or the other parent has been violent, or caused physical or emotional harm

The child’s wishes will also be a consideration, if the child is mature enough to reasonably make decisions. Some of the factors considered include the wishes of the parents, child, the physical and mental well-being of both parents, relocation plans, and other factors. Issues related to child custody or support may be addressed during a divorce, paternity case, or separate child custody action.


Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.375.4.

Is Missouri a Mother State?

The state of Missouri will not give preference to a parent because of their gender. Both parents have equivalent rights when it comes to decisions regarding custody or support. Just like mothers, a father can petition for both child custody and child support. The best interests of the child will always be the most important factor when a judge decides the case. One thing to keep in mind, is that a mother may have an advantage in a custody case, if the child is an infant and needs her for feeding and nurturing.

What Rights Does a Father Have For Custody in Missouri?

By state law, any father that is unwed possesses no parental rights unless paternity is established. Paternity may be established by completing an affidavit of paternity anytime between the birth of the child up until the child turns 18. However, an affidavit does not allow for custody or visitation rights. To obtain these rights, a paternity suit must be filed.

Types of Child Custody in Missouri

The statutes and past precedents of Missouri courts do not differentiate between married, formerly married, and unmarried parents. There are two types of child custody issues decided by the courts: Physical custody and legal custody.

A variety of custody arrangements may be ordered by the court, including:

  • Joint physical and legal custody
  • Joint physical custody to both parents, with one having sole legal custody
  • Joint legal custody, with one parent having sole physical custody
  • Sole legal and physical custody to one parent
  • Custody or visitation given to another party, such as grandparents

Missouri law shows a clear preference for joint physical custody and joint legal custody. Unless there is a compelling reason for the court to order sole physical or legal custody to one parent, you should expect that you will receive joint legal and physical custody of your children. If a compelling reason exists for awarding sole custody, consult with a St. Louis child custody attorney. Our St. Louis child custody lawyers can evaluate your situation and provide legal advice that is tailored to your specific circumstances.

What Is an Unfit Parent in Missouri?

A parent is deemed unfit when they are decidedly unable to provide proper care for their child. Parents could be found to be unfit for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Child abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Drug or substance abuse
  • Inability of the parent to properly provide for the child’s physical, mental, or emotional needs
  • Mental illness that poses a potential threat to the child’s wellbeing

Overall, the court continues to circle back to the consideration of the child’s best interest, and how parental presence, or lack thereof, will affect them.

Can a Child Refuse Visitation?

While judges often give consideration to a child’s wishes when making custody decisions, the child is given less agency in deciding when and with whom they spend their time once the matter is officially decided.

Children under 18 are required by law to abide by visitation agreements. Failure to do so could result in legal consequences for the custodial parent, as they would be seen as the one to have violated the court order.

If the custodial parent fears that the child would be in danger should they visit the noncustodial parent, whether because of the environment or parent themselves, the custodial parent should contact Cavanagh & Associates. Together we can discuss legal actions to protect your child without risking a violation of your custody order.

Ultimately, if a child is uncooperative, the matter can be brought to the court and left in the hands of the judge to consider whether there are appropriate grounds for granting the child’s request to modify visitation orders. If the court finds that the custodial parent intervened in the child’s visitation, rather than the child independently refusing, that parent risks fines, makeup custody periods, and, in some cases, a transfer of custody to the other parent.

Do Grandparents Have Custody Rights?

Parents are favored in Missouri custody cases, with courts presuming that it is in the best interest of the child to live with at least one of their biological parents. For a grandparent to be awarded custody, the court would need to find both parents unfit or unwilling to be the primary guardian. If presented with enough compelling evidence, grandparents can then fight for custody, claiming it would be best for the child. 

While custody can be more difficult to achieve, Missouri law offers some protection to grandparents and their relationship with their grandchildren. State visitation statutes allow biological grandparents to assert their rights so see their grandchild if:

  • The child has lived with the grandparent in question for at least six months within the two tears preceding filing the petition for visitation
  • The child’s parents, who were never married, unreasonably deny visitation for more than 90 days
  • The child’s parents are divorcing, in which case they can intervene and seek visitation
  • One of the child’s parents dies and the surviving spouse denies reasonable visitation

Grandparents can achieve visitation regardless of the relationship status of the parents and the role they play in the child’s life. This means that even if the parent is absent in the child’s life, grandparents maintain a right to see the child. However, to legally establish regular visitation, grandparents are tasked with proving that visitation is in the best interest of the child. That is to say that the grandparent must show that the visits benefit the health, safety, and overall wellbeing of the child.

Contact our office today at (314) 309-2799 to discuss your situation with our St Louis child custody lawyer.

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