Can a minor gain custody of his child?

Divorce Attorney Angela FoyQuestion:

My son is 17 and has a child with his ex-girlfriend who is 18. They have been sharing custody, but lately there are too many arguments and I would like to get a child custody order in place and finalized.

Joint custody is the desired outcome. Is that possible considering my son is a minor?

 

Answer:

While the exact timeline and possibilities of finalizing a shared custody order depend on many factors and the rules in your jurisdiction, I can give you some general guidelines about the law and what may be involved.  I do not practice in Missouri, so I can only speak in generalities based on my experience.

The fact that your son is a minor should not, by itself, impede his parental rights. Of course, he needs to be ready, willing and able to appropriately parent his child.  It is how he can parent that should be examined, and it may be more closely examined because he is so young.

It is unclear from your question whether a case has already been started.  When a child is born and the child’s parents are not married, the state has an interest in making sure both parents are named.  An action is usually initiated by Child Support Enforcement, which carries out the state’s interest.  However, because this office is very busy, or because paternity is established by the parents right away after the child’s birth, this may not happen quickly.  Either of the parents can also start an action for custody, placement, and child support.

Custody and placement will be the primary issue for the court to determine first.  The court prefers for parents to come to an agreement, and as long as the agreement is reasonable, the court generally accepts the parents’ agreement and makes it an order of the court.  To assist parents in coming to an agreement, courts will often order mediation.

If parents cannot agree on the custody and placement arrangement, then the court will make a determination and issue an order after a trial.  Prior to that trial, the court may order the appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent the child’s best interest or a custody study.  The court then considers many factors in setting what it determines to be an appropriate arrangement.  These factors may include:

  • The wishes of the child’s parent or parents, as shown by any stipulation or proposal;
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interest;
  • The amount and quality of time that each parent has spent with the child in the past, any necessary changes to the parent’s custodial roles and any reasonable life-style changes that a parent proposes to make to be able to spend time with the child in the future;
  • The child’s adjustment to the home, school, religion and community;
  • The age of the child, and the child’s developmental and educational needs at different ages;
  • Whether the mental or physical health of a party, minor child, or other person living in a proposed custodial household negatively affects the child’s intellectual, physical, or emotional well-being;
  • The need for regularly occurring and meaningful periods of physical placement to provide predictability and stability for the child;
  • The availability of public or private child care services;
  • The cooperation and communication between the parties and whether either party unreasonably refuses to cooperate or communicate with the other party;
  • Whether each party can support the other party’s relationship with the child including encouraging and facilitating frequent and continuing contact with the child , or whether one party is likely to unreasonably interfere with the child’s continuing relationship with the other party;
  • Whether there is evidence that a party engaged in abuse;
  • Whether a person whom a parent is dating, a person who resides or intermittently resides at a proposed custodial household, has a criminal record and whether there is evidence that they have engaged in abuse of any child, or neglected any child;
  • Whether either party has or had a significant problem with alcohol or drug abuse
  • Such other factors as the court determines to be relevant

The likelihood of obtaining the order you desire depends on the facts of your case and the laws in your jurisdiction. I do not practice in Missouri, so I cannot inform you as to the state’s specific laws.  Cordell & Cordell has attorneys in Missouri, and they would be happy to discuss your case with you.

 

Angela Foy is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisc., office of Cordell & Cordell where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Foy is licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

 Ms. Foy received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She then continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Marquette University.

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