Domestic violence has a severe influence on many families and individuals in the country. If you are going through a divorce or separation where there was domestic violence, you may be uncertain how this will change child custody proceedings. No child should have to suffer or see domestic violence. Columbia courts look after the child’s interests above all else. If you are a parent attempting to get full custody or are a parent accused of domestic violence, legal counsel is essential to protect your rights during a child custody case.

Factors that Determine Child Custody

Courts in Missouri prefer joint legal and physical custody whenever possible. Legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make legal decisions for their child, and physical custody refers to where they live. There are several factors that a judge will consider when determining custody. This includes:

  • The ability of each parent to care for the child’s needs
  • The child’s needs, including the need for meaningful and continuing relationships with their parents
  • Any proposed parenting plan
  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The child’s connection with siblings, other family members, and other individuals
  • If one parent is more likely to allow the child to spend time with the other parent
  • The mental and physical health of both parents and the child
  • A history of or continued substance abuse
  • The child’s wishes
  • A history of domestic violence towards a child or a parent

The court assumes that it is in the child’s interests to spend meaningful time with both parents unless it is proven otherwise. If one parent is unfit or unable to care for children, the court may award sole legal and physical custody to one parent.

Custody and Domestic Violence

The court must see evidence of domestic violence and see proof that the emotional or physical well-being and safety of the child were threatened. This evidence may include direct evidence of abuse and violence or evidence of the impact it has had on the child. Evidence may include:

  • Protective or restraining orders against the parent
  • Past criminal or civil cases regarding their violent behavior
  • Medical records of an injuries
  • Medical records of the child’s physical or mental health
  • The impact on a child’s performance or behavior in school

A family court that sees proof of a parent’s abusive behavior toward a child or a parent will likely remove their right to custody. The abusive parent may also not be allowed visitation rights in many cases, though the court may award limited or supervised visitation. The parent may also end up facing criminal charges.

A parent requesting sole custody can show how the other parent is unfit. They can also show how they provide a caring and supportive home. A child custody attorney can help advocate for your interests in court.

Termination of Parental Rights

If a parent has committed domestic violence against a child, their parental rights may be terminated. The involuntary termination of parental rights is considered a last resort for custody cases. This action is more likely in cases such as:

  • Child abandonment or chronic neglect, where a parent repeatedly fails to provide for a child’s needs
  • A consistent pattern of abuse or severe acts of abuse
  • Intentional cruelty
  • The parent has committed a crime against the child or another one of their children, including murder, attempted murder, sexual offenses, felony assault with serious bodily injury, or voluntary manslaughter

Parental rights are terminated if the court determines contact between parent and child would be dangerous for the child. Once a parent’s rights have been terminated, it is unlikely that they will be able to regain those rights. Severe domestic violence acts or other crimes against children will likely result in loss of parental rights, criminal prosecution, and the requirement to pay child support.


Q: What Is a Violation of a Child Custody Order in Missouri?

A: Violating a child custody order includes several actions that go against a court-ordered parenting plan. It may include:

  • Preventing the other parent from their scheduled visitation
  • Preventing a child from contacting their other parent
  • Making it difficult to schedule custody exchanges
  • Physically keeping a child away from their other parent without good cause

A parent who does not comply with a custody court order could face several court actions, including contempt of court. Being found in contempt of court could result in jail time or fines.

Q: What Are Grounds for Full Custody in Missouri?

A: Missouri courts generally prefer parents to have joint physical and legal custody of a child. This is because it considers frequent and meaningful contact between a child and both parents to be in the child’s interests. In order to get full custody or sole legal and physical custody, a parent would have to prove that spending time with the other parent is not in the child’s interests or that it actively puts them in danger. This may include continued and untreated substance abuse disorders, domestic violence and abuse, a history of consistent neglect, or an inability to care for a child’s basic needs.

Q: How Far Can a Parent Move with Joint Custody in Missouri?

A: Unlike other states, there is no distance requirement for relocation. This means that even a move one house over requires either the consent of a co-parent or the legal permission of the court. In order to get consent from your co-parent, you must send a formal notice. This notice must be provided 60 days prior to the moving date and include essential information such as the new address, the date of relocation, and the reason for moving. If the move will impact custody or visitation orders, the notice should also include proposed changes to the order. If a co-parent does not consent to the relocation, you must go through the court.

Q: What Makes a Parent Unfit in Missouri?

A: A parent is deemed unfit in Missouri if their actions cause their children to be in danger or suffer emotional, physical, or psychological harm. An unfit parent is a legal term and does not refer to a parent who is imperfect. A parent may be considered unfit if they engage in domestic violence, parental neglect, or have a continued and untreated substance abuse disorder.

Work With an Experienced Attorney

A divorce or child custody case involving domestic violence can be complex and emotionally overwhelming. Contact Stange Law Firm for compassionate and effective legal representation.