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Missouri child support, custody, visitation, and wage garnishment rules

Use this Missouri child support law to learn about your child support rights and responsibilites.

How is Missouri child support determined?

In Missouri, under most circumstances, both parents have a duty to support their children. In determining the amount of child support, the courts consider the following factors:

  • the financial needs and resources of the child
  • the financial resources and needs of the parents
  • the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not ended
  • the physical and emotional condition of the child and the child's educational needs
  • the child's physical and legal custody arrangements, including the amount of time the child spends with each parent and the reasonable expenses associated with the custody or visitation arrangements
  • the reasonable work-related child care expenses of each parent

There are specific Missouri Child Support Guidelines, designed to be in the best interests of the child, that the courts use to determine the correct amount of child support. These will be followed unless both parents agree to an amount other than that calculated by the guidelines, or the courts decide the guidelines are unjust or inappropriate due to the particular circumstances of a case. 

In determining monthly child support, the court will use the "income shares model" for its calculations. The "income shares model" is designed to allow the child the same amount of financial support as the parents would have contributed had the household remained intact. Such a model is for the basic child support obligation, thereby excluding parental expenditures for child care and the child's share of health insurance premiums and extraordinary medical expenses.

Child support will also be adjusted in accordance with the percentage of overnight periods that the child spends with the non-custodial parent.

At what age does child support payments end?

Generally, the obligation ends when the child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. A child will also automatically be ineligible for child support if that child marries, is removed from disability status by a court order, or the child dies.

Missouri's custody guidelines:

The parents may agree upon decisions about custody. If there is no agreement, then the courts will make these custody decisions. In Missouri, joint or sole custody may be awarded, based on the best interests of the child. In doing so, the court will consider all relevant factors, including:

  • both parents' proposed parenting skills and proposed custody schedule when submitted to the court
  • the child’s need to maintain frequent, continuing and meaningful relationships with both parents
  • each parent's ability and willingness to perform his or her parental role
  • the interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests
  • which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent
  • the child's adjustment to the child's home, school and community
  • the intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child
  • the child's preference regarding who will be his or her custodian
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals

If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, and the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child; the court must enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law.

In all custody cases involving domestic violence, custody and visitation rights will be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm.

In making the custody decision, no preference is given based on a parent’s age, sex or financial status, or the child’s age or sex. The courts do have a preference of joint custody. In all instances a parenting plan is required to be included in a decree of dissolution. 

If a history of abuse toward the child is proven, that parent may lose certain custody rights at least temporarily. 

A parent who is not granted custody is entitled to reasonable visitation.

Missouri's medical insurance guidelines:

Generally, the decision as to which parent is going to provide medical insurance coverage for the child and how medical bills will be paid is set out in the marital settlement agreement. If these decisions have not been addressed, then the Missouri courts my order a parent to provide health insurance coverage for the child, if this coverage is available at a reasonable cost through an employer, union or other organization.

How permanent are the provisions for Missouri child support and custody ?

Court orders providing for support and custody of children are subject to change or modification in the event of substantial and continuing changes in circumstances such as significant changes in income and/or living arrangements of the children and/or the parents.

While all orders concerning the children are modifiable in the future, we encourage you to not enter into an agreement based on the idea that it can always be changed or modified later.

Wage garnishment for child support payments:

Most states, including Missouri, have a provision for withholding child support directly from the earnings of the parent who has been ordered to provide support. It is withheld much like income tax is withheld from earnings payments.

This way of paying and receiving child support is generally easier for both parties and considered a very dependable solution. The way it typically works is, once the support is withheld, it is then sent to the state agency authorized to receive and disburse payments. Once it has been verified that the support was paid, it is then sent to the parent designated to receive the support.

If a non-custodial parent can show that they are providing more than 50 percent of the support for dependents not included in the court order from a second marriage, and is not in arrears, no more than 50% of their disposable income can be attached if they cannot pay the full court-ordered amount of both orders.

That number goes to 55% if the non-custodial parent is in arrears, 60 percent for a person only providing support to dependents under the current order, and 65% for a person who is in arrears and paying only on the current order.

How does joint custody work?

The current trend is to encourage parents to work together for the best interests of their children. Joint legal and physical custody are now widely recognized by parents, courts and state legislatures as the preferred parenting plan for divorcing parents. The Missouri courts encourage both joint legal and physical custody.

Specifically, joint legal custody is a form of custody of minor children that requires both parents to share the responsibilities for the health, education and welfare of the children, and for both parents to approve all major decisions related to the children.

While joint legal custody is a 50-50 sharing of responsibilities and major decisions affecting the children, it rarely works out to be a 50-50 sharing of time with the children. Usually, one parent is named as the sole physical custodian, and the other parent is granted visitation. However, as indicated above, there is a preference for "joint physical custody" even if it is not on a 50-50.

How Missouri determines child visitation:

Generally, parents are free to visit with their children at all times that are mutually agreed to by both parents. However, when parents cannot agree, the standard visitation schedule accepted most everywhere in the nation is:

  • every other weekend
  • four to six (4-6) weeks during the summer
  • alternating holidays
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