Missouri law always tries to provide young children with an environment that meets their basic needs and suits their best interests. This "best interests" test is used in divorce and paternity cases involving children, to help set up a custody plan that serves the needs of the children. However, parents also have the legal right to direct the upbringing of their children, and sometimes, the rights of parents might be in tension with the best interests of their children.
The Missouri Court of Appeals (Eastern District) recently issued a decision addressing the rights of a child's father who had raised the child for many years. This father paid child support (over $60,000) and had regular visitation with the child, even after he and the child's mother separated. However, when the mother reconnected with the child's biological father, she quickly cut the only "dad" her child knew out of his life. She worked together with biological father to completely exclude "Dad" from the life of her nine year old son.
In this case, the court had to weight the rights of parents against the rights of the child. The child's father sought third-party custody, claiming that the child's mother and biological father were both unfit to serve as the parents for the child. On the other hand, the mother claimed that she and the biological father had the natural right to be the parents of their child, without interference from the child's long-time father.
In the end, the court determined that the biological parents were unfit to serve as parents, and the judge appointed the child's father as his third-party custodian. The court said that in taking the child away from the biological parents, the judge must either find that the biological parents are unfit or unable to serve as parents, or find that the child's welfare requires the appointment of a third-party custodian. And, in addition to either of those findings, the judge must also determine what is in the best interests of the child.
The court serves the best interest of the child by making that consideration paramount to all other factors, including, sometimes, the rights of natural parents to have custody of their children. When parents act in ways that fail to protect their children, then courts are well advised to look out for what is best for the child.
Case Citation: A.M.B. v. A.D.L. & J.B.U., ED106013 (Opinion filed, April 16, 2019)