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The New Shared Custody Bill – How to Make It Work for You

Three years ago, Governor Jay Nixon signed into law a "Shared Parenting" bill, known as HB 1550, which basically stated that it is in a child's best interests to have both parents in his or her life.

Now there is another that was discussed in the Missouri House and Senate over the past term, but may pick up traction when they reconvene after the summer. This bill gets a lot more specific and actually will mandate courts to start with a presumption that parents should emerge from a divorce or custody case with each side having 50% custody.

The presumption is that it is in a child’s best interest that the parents will share equal time with the child, however, a judge can look at a bunch of factors and possibly determine that the 50/50 schedule is NOT going to be in a child’s best interests.

So, if you are going through (or about to go through) custody litigation, how can you best optimize your chances to have 50/50 custody with your “co-parent”?

  1. Live (somewhat) close together. Kids go to school and it is usually close to one parent’s house. If you are the parent moving out and you move someplace that is an hour away, how will you get the children to school if they continue to attend near your old residence? Don’t expect a judge to think that it is all right for a child to have an hour commute every day to get to and from school. Your children will not think that is in their best interests either when they are dragged out of bed at 5 am.
  2. Have adequate bedrooms for the kids at your residence. If your kids are with you 50% of the time, that probably means that 50% of their stuff will be at your house, so they need closet space and storage. Each child should have their own bed. If your child is only with you every other weekend he or she may be able to sleep on the couch. Not so if they have to get up and get ready for school and be there a substantial amount of time. So don’t expect 50/50 custody if you move into a one bedroom apartment.
  3. Be able to co-parent and communicate with the other parent. If the parents cannot communicate with each other regarding kid issues, the judge often awards one of them sole legal custody. In most cases, if a parent has sole legal custody, 50/50 custody is not likely to work very well, as the parent that is making the decisions for the kids only has them half the time. So be open to communicating with your co-parent about child issues and don’t block their number in your phone.
  4. Be sensitive to your children’s needs depending on their ages. It is possible that your child is too young to start a 50/50 schedule yet. If that is the case, you may end up with a schedule that starts with less time for you and gradually phases in more time, working up to 50/50. Or if your kids are older, their social or school or sports lives may take over and they may find it more convenient to be primarily at one house.

Many parents assume that if they have 50/50 custody of their kids, they will not have to pay child support to the other parent. Don’t count on that, as the child support is determined by incomes, so if you make significantly more than your co-parent, it is likely that you will still pay child support. The amount will, however, be reduced if the children are with you a specific number of overnights.