Third parties may be granted custody of minor children, but this generally occurs only in extreme cases where the parents have been determined to be unfit or unable to be granted custody (i.e. in jail, etc.).
In Missouri, “the best interest of the child” is the determining factor in deciding which party is granted custody of minor children. Courts have several factors to consider in making this determination, including the following:
the wishes of the parties
whether a parent in under deportation proceedings
the child’s relationship and interaction with others (the parties, siblings, others)
the child’s adjustment of status, community, school, etc.
mental and physical health of the parties
any history of abuse
felony sexual offense of a party (Court cannot grant custody to that party)
the child’s need for a continuing relationship with parents
either party’s intent to relocate out of Missouri
which parent is more likely to allow the child visitation with the other parent
Notably absent from this list is the misconduct of either party. Extramarital affairs and other misconduct can be considered in awarding maintenance (alimony) or in the division of marital property, but not in the custody of minor children or in determining child support. This is because the court is not trying to see what is fair to the parties, but what is fair to their minor children, or “in their best interest.”
How does custody get decided as between parents?
Again, in Missouri, the “best interests of the child” prevails. See the question above for a list of considerations.
What is the terminology for custody?
Legal Custody – generally means which party is granted decision-making responsibility regarding a child’s upbringing, including where he goes to school, whether or when he needs medical attention, what religious beliefs he will be raised in, etc. Will generally be granted to a party as “Sole Legal Custody” or to both parties as “Joint Legal Custody”
Physical Custody – refers to significant amounts of time with both parents, so that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Missouri’s custody statute encourages joint custody arrangements where appropriate. Will generally be granted to a party as “Sole Physical Custody” or to both parties as “Joint Physical Custody”.