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  • Jan 3rd, 2024

    The Difference Between Legal Separation and Divorce in Missouri


    Understanding divorce and legal separation in Missouri

    While looking at something as serious as the dissolution of marriage, it is important to know what all your options are. Divorce can be a scary word because of its connotations, the finality it brings, and how it seems to end any hope of a positive resolution.

    For those who retain the hope or desire to have reconciliation with their spouse, there is a lesser-known option known as legal separation.

    Every state is entitled to its own laws and regulations – this is also true when it comes to filing for divorce. The biggest factor that may vary from state to state regarding divorce and legal separation is whether that state is a no-fault or fault divorce state. Missouri, for instance, is a no-fault divorce state. This means an individual is not required to provide grounds for their divorce. They simply need to fulfill the state’s divorce process to complete the dissolution of marriage.

    All of this is to say that, Missouri’s laws and definitions of the difference between divorce and a legal separation may not be the same as every other state. We advise you to do some research into your state’s divorce laws if necessary.

    What is Legal Separation?

    Separation Agreement

    In the state of Missouri, there is a legal recourse to separating as a couple that is not divorced. In Missouri law, this legal separation is called separate maintenance.

    How does separate maintenance work in Missouri?

    Separate maintenance is where the court does not dissolve the marriage but issues orders and legal protections that are the same as those that would normally be issued in a divorce. The reason why a couple would choose to pursue this route versus a divorce is because they see a possibility of reconciliation at some point in the future, or possibly some benefit to remaining married (such as remaining on the spouse’s health insurance). The pleading is extremely similar to a divorce pleading, but simply removes the part about believing that “the marriage is irretrievably broken”.

    The legal process of separation begins when one spouse files a petition for separate maintenance to the court in the county in which either spouse has resided for at least ninety days.

    The court can choose to enter a judgment of legal separation if it finds a reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved by taking this legal recourse. Within this agreement is a legally binding contract that both spouses sign. The intention behind this contract is to resolve all issues related to children, property, and debt.

    While Missouri is a state that does not require a couple to prove grounds for getting a separation or divorce, if there is one member of the marriage who refuses to grant the separation, it may become necessary to prove the need for the separation or divorce.

    Related: What are the benefits of a mediated divorce?

    The grounds for which a legal separation can be filed are similar to those for divorce. These include, but are not limited to:

    • The irretrievable breakdown of a marriage
    • One of the spouses committed adultery and there is no understanding of the marriage being “open”
    • Abandonment by one spouse for six or more continuous months prior to filing for divorce
    • There has been a separation in the previous year because of misconduct on the part of one of the parties
    • One of the parties is found to have been involved in criminal activity
    • There is a history of what can be considered unreasonable spousal behavior
    • The couple has been living apart and separate for two years or more

    In Missouri, legal separation requires a minimum of thirty days from the time of filing to go into effect.

    As the couple remains married, the only thing a couple needs to in order to end the separation in the case of relational reconciliation is to have the court ruling dismissed.

    Once this is dismissed, the couple is able to have full legal reconciliation.

    What are the differences between Legal Separation and Divorce?


    Because divorce has a certain stigma and can be a difficult thing to talk about, there are a lot of different names, titles and terminology used to describe certain aspects of the process. This can make understanding the process without a local divorce and family law attorney very difficult. We, for instance, are commonly asked about the differences between a contested divorce, an uncontested divorce, and a mediated divorce.

    In a divorce, the parties are no longer married. When there is a legal separation, the parties remain married until there is a Motion asking to turn the legal separation into a divorce. Unlike divorce, legal separation is an action usually taken with the hope of a reconciliation of the marriage itself. While there are a lot of similar practical legal ramifications of having a legal separation, it is important to know the distinction of separation vs divorce.

    Differences Between Separation and Divorce

    • Separation is not intended to be a final dissolution of the marriage, whereas divorce is.
    • The two parties remain legally married during this process, and neither party can proceed with getting re-married.
    • Health care, social security, and other benefits may be preserved for the other party in the marriage.
    • Spouses can still be legally required for the debt of the other.
    • In the case of death, each spouse still has the legal right to property upon the death of the other unless stated otherwise in the court documents.
    • The spouses are still considered next of kin in the case of legal and medical emergencies, and decisions can be made for the other so long as there is not a Power of Attorney appointing someone else.
    • Separation is an act intended to help lead to the preservation of a marriage, whereas divorce is the dissolution of a marriage.
    • All that is needed to end a separation is a court ruling dismissing the separation. There is no need to remarry. If a divorced couple reconciles, they must legally remarry to regain legal privileges.

    Similarities Between Separation and Divorce

    • Both require a court order.
    • The court ensures that that there is child support, custody and visitation for each child of the marriage.
    • The court also ensures any maintenance of either spouse through alimony.
    • There is disposition and division of property and debt.

    Why Choose a Legal Separation?

    Separation Reconcilation

    There are multiple reasons that a couple would choose to file for legal separation instead of having a divorce.

    The married couple may have personal or religious beliefs that do not permit divorce. Filing a legal marriage separation can allow them to remain married, while at the same time, live completely separated lives in every other sense.

    As insurance coverage, social security benefits, and pensions are still allowed for the other spouse during a separation, this can be a way of helping to care for the other spouse while not being able to live in the same household.

    The legal separation can be a stop on the way to divorce. Choosing to have a separation, keeps the marriage itself intact. It gives the couple a chance to get their affairs in order and see what long-term options they may want.

    After having decided which way to go, it is easy for the couple to choose reconciliation from a separation, while reconciliation from a divorce involves much more paperwork and potential court and legal fees.

    Take Full Consideration: Legal Separation or Divorce?

    It is important to fully take into consideration the distinctions when one is looking at separation vs divorce, and which is the best choice for your circumstances. After reading this article, you should have a better understanding of the difference between legal separation and divorce, and which action to pursue.

    If you need of St. Louis family lawyer, we would be happy to assist in any way we can. We offer flat rate options for all of our divorce, family law, and divorce mediation services in St. Louis.

    If you are giving serious thought to legal separation, it is imperative for you to get the experienced legal help that you need. Contact Haefner Law. We have convenient locations in St. Louis and offer complimentary consultations.

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