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  • May 21st, 2024

    The Steps to Take After Being Served Divorce Papers

    Divorce, Divorce Preparation, Divorce Process

    I have been served divorce papers; what should I do now?

    This is not going to be a good day.  You were at home or work, and you just got served with divorce papers. 

    Like most people, you’re wondering what you need to do to protect yourself, your assets, and your children.  

    One thing to note is that the moment you were handed those documents by a sheriff or process server (or signed an Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service), a thirty (30) day clock has started, and you must submit responsive pleadings before that clock runs out. 

    This is not the time to bury your head in the sand or ignore it. 

    Even if you are holding out hope that you will be able to reconcile, you MUST file something to avoid what is called a “Default Judgment” against you.  

    A Default Judgement is when a party fails to respond to the Petition for Dissolution in the appropriate time-frame, which is thirty (30) days in Missouri. 

    The attorney for the other party will file a Motion for Default Judgment setting with the Court, alleging that you have chosen to not participate in these proceedings, and therefore the Court should just give their client what they are asking for. 

    For most people, this is the worst-case scenario and one that can be easily avoided if you are proactive.

    Default Judgements can issue Orders for how the assets and debts are divided, child custody, a parenting plan, child support, and maintenance (the term Missouri uses for alimony).  If you have nothing on file, the Court assumes that your spouse is fully disclosing everything and will issue Orders against you.  

    An overview of Missouri’s divorce laws

    Missouri is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that you don’t need to prove your spouse did something wrong to get a divorce.

    Instead, you only need to show that your marriage is irretrievably broken. This means that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.

    Missouri divorce laws also cover the division of property. The court divides marital property in a way that it considers fair. This doesn’t necessarily mean an equal split.

    The court considers several factors when dividing property. These include the economic circumstances of each spouse, the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, and the value of the non-marital property set apart to each spouse.

    Here are some key points to remember about Missouri divorce laws:

    • Missouri is a “no-fault” divorce state.
    • The court divides marital property in a way that it considers fair.
    • The court considers several factors when dividing property.
    • The court also considers child custody and support, as well as spousal support.

    Understanding these laws can help you navigate the divorce process. It can also help you protect your rights and interests.

    Remember, every divorce case is unique. It’s important to consult with a St. Louis divorce lawyer or a Missouri-based divorce attorney for advice tailored to your specific situation.

    Steps to take after receiving divorce papers

    Being served with divorce papers can be a shock. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions, from anger to sadness. However, it’s crucial to take immediate action. Here is a list of steps we advise you to take if you have been served divorce papers.

    Step 1: Review the divorce documents

    The first step is to read the papers carefully. These documents will tell you what your spouse is asking for in the divorce. They will also provide you with important information about the divorce process in Missouri.

    Step 2: Consult with a local divorce attorney

    Next, you need to do is contact a local divorce attorney.   Most good family law attorneys will not be able to get you in the next day, so do not wait until the 30 days is almost up to start making calls. 

    Start the next day after you were served. 

    A St. Louis divorce lawyer can help you understand your rights and responsibilities. They can also guide you through the process of responding to the divorce papers.

    Step 3: Begin gathering documents and other information

    It’s also important to gather all relevant financial documents. This includes bank statements, tax returns, and property deeds. These documents will be crucial in determining the division of assets and debts.

    The attorney you hire will provide you with a list of all of the information you need to gather. They will (or should) be an invaluable resource during this time and they will make sure you have everything you need to be prepared.

    Step 4: File the necessary documents with the court

    Your attorney will be able to guide you through the process, but, there are portions where you will be required to submit certain documents yourself.  These include, at the very least, an Answer to the Petition for Dissolution, and in most cases, financial statements (see Missouri Divorce Forms and Documents here) and a Counter-Petition for Dissolution

    So long as those are on file, there is not going to be a default Judgment taken against you.  

    The Answer to the Petition for Dissolution is simple enough. 

    You go through the paragraphs and admit or deny the allegations that were made by your spouse.  If anything made in the numbered paragraph is wrong, deny the whole thing. 

    This means that the opposing party must prove the allegation in Court.  Anything you “Admit” to will be assumed to be true, and little if any focus will be spent on trying to prove that allegation. 

    Step 5: Take care of yourself

    Finally, remember to take care of yourself. Divorce can be a stressful and emotional process. Seek support from friends, family, or a professional counselor to help you navigate this challenging time. If you have children, this will also be a very difficult time for them. Make sure you stay strong when you are in their presence and let them know that they are loved.

    Preparing for a contested divorce after being served divorce papers

    The reality is that contested divorce matters are hard, and complicated, and can destroy people if they are not protected.  At the very least, you need to speak with a divorce lawyer to discuss your rights and get assistance with filing your own documents if you cannot afford an attorney. 

    That being said, you need an attorney, even if you have to borrow money to pay for one (most also take credit cards, and while not ideal, may be an option). 

    I know it is expensive, but having a dedicated and experienced family law attorney is worth it when there are contested matters/issues.   There is also a possibility that your attorney will ask that your spouse pay (or repay) for your attorney fees. 

    Child custody and child support in Missouri

    When it comes to child custody and support, Missouri divorce laws prioritize the best interests of the child. The court considers various factors to determine what arrangement would best serve the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.

    In Missouri, there are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to where the child lives, while legal custody pertains to decision-making rights about the child’s upbringing. Both types of custody can be either sole or joint, depending on the circumstances.

    Here are some key points to consider:

    • The court will look at factors such as the parent’s wishes, the child’s wishes (if they are old enough), the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community, and the mental and physical health of all parties involved.
    • Missouri law requires a parenting plan in all cases involving custody. This plan outlines the details of custody and visitation and can be agreed upon by the parents or determined by the court.
    • Child support in Missouri is calculated using a formula that takes into account the parent’s income, the cost of health insurance, the cost of child care, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

    Navigating child custody and support issues can be emotionally challenging. It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of Missouri divorce laws and possibly the guidance of a St. Louis divorce lawyer to ensure the best outcome for your child.

    It is the job of the divorce attorney to get everything they can for their client, and not responding or going in without knowledgeable representation will hurt you in the long run. 

    You need to take quick and swift action to ensure that you, your assets (including retirement), and your children are protected. 

    Preparing your financial disclosures after receiving divorce papers

    In a Missouri divorce, both parties are required to make full financial disclosures. This includes providing information about all assets, debts, income, and expenses. This process is crucial for ensuring a fair division of property and determining child and spousal support.

    Financial disclosures should be comprehensive and accurate. This means including all forms of income, such as salaries, bonuses, dividends, and rental income. Assets can include real estate, vehicles, retirement accounts, investments, and personal property. Debts can include mortgages, car loans, credit card debts, and any other liabilities.

    Failure to disclose financial information can have serious consequences. If a court finds that a party has intentionally hidden assets or lied about their finances, it can award a larger share of the marital property to the other party, order the dishonest party to pay the other’s legal fees, or even impose penalties for contempt of court.

    Speak with a divorce attorney to discuss your divorce papers

    Contact Haefner Law Office at (314) 200-6101, and set up your free 30 minute phone consultation with a dedicated family law attorney to discuss your case, get some guidance, and see if we are the right fit for you. 

    It may just be the most important call you ever make.  All we do at Haefner Law Office is family law, and we know how to protect you.  You do not need to do this alone. 

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