Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, First Division
Appeal from Missouri Circuit Court of the St. Louis County. Hon. John R. Essner, Judge.
For Appellant: Maia Brodie, Clayton, MO.
R. S., respondent, Pro Se, St. Louis, MO.
CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge. Lawrence E. Mooney, P.J., concurs. Lisa Van Amburg, J., concurs.
CLIFFORD H. AHRENS, Judge.
J.S. (Mother) appeals the trial court's judgment denying her motion to modify physical and legal custody of the son she shares with R.S. (Father). We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.
Mother and Father married in 1999, had a son (Son) in 2002, separated in 2006, and divorced in January 2009. The trial court awarded them joint physical custody of Son, and Father was designated as the residential parent for educational purposes. The custody schedule provided that Mother had custody on alternating weekends and every Wednesday night. Father was awarded sole legal custody. The court's custody determinations were influenced by its concerns about Mother's mental health and history of substance abuse as well as the parties' inability to communicate effectively. Since that time, however, Mother has participated in therapy and maintained sobriety, and the parties have succeeded in communicating and cooperating as parents. In light of these developments, in late 2012 Mother filed the present motion to modify, seeking joint legal custody and an increase in residential custodial time. In support of her motion, Mother cited the following changed circumstances: Mother had remarried and Son now has two half-siblings; Son was diagnosed with learning disabilities; Mother had reduced her work schedule to accommodate parenting responsibilities; and
the parties had achieved a collaborative parenting partnership.
After a three-day hearing during which voluminous evidence was adduced, the trial court denied Mother's motion, reasoning that the foregoing circumstances did not necessitate modification in order to serve Son's best interests. Mother asserts three points on appeal: (1) that the trial court misapplied the modification statute by scrutinizing the necessity of modification, (2) that modification of the residential schedule is in Son's best interests, and (3) that, on this record and the court's own findings, Missouri law prescribes joint legal custody.
Standard of Review
On appeal, the trial court's judgment will be affirmed unless there is no substantial evidence to support it, it is against the weight of the evidence, or it erroneously declares or applies the law. Jansen v. Westrich,95 S.W.3d 214, 217-18 (Mo. App. 2003), citing Murphy v. Carron, 536 S.W.2d 30, 32 (Mo. ...