If you’re considering filing for divorce in Missouri, know there are many options available to you and your family. The divorce process can be confusing and difficult to navigate, and it’s natural to have questions.
As one of Missouri’s top family law practices, Haefner Law Office offers compassionate, zealous legal representation and consultation in the field of divorce law. We’ve answered inquiries and concerns from thousands of other people in your situation, and we understand the deeply sensitive nature of pursuing and eventually settling a divorce case.
We’ve compiled this easy-to-follow guide to help visitors learn more about what to expect when they file for divorce in Missouri. Sourced from similar questions our clients have asked, these questions offer a comprehensive look at the Missouri divorce process.
Scheduling a consultation with an experienced divorce attorney is one of the best moves one can make. Many people feel that they can “wing” their way through the divorce process, especially if they and their spouse have agreed to an uncontested divorce. However, it takes skills and experience to navigate the divorce process in such a way that protects the rights and finances of the divorcing couple.
With an attorney on your team, you can move forward with the guarantee that your rights will be adequately represented in each stage of the divorce–including petition, property division, child custody, and the final dissolution. A divorce law attorney will be able to consider your case on an individual basis and help build the right plan for you.
Typically, most divorce case proceedings begin with the filing of a Petition of Dissolution of Marriage. Missouri uses “dissolution of marriage” instead of “divorce” in legal proceedings. A Petition for Dissolution of Marriage – also known as a “complaint” in other states – is a legal document that is filed in court by any spouse seeking a divorce. The petition essentially informs the court of the “petitioner’s” desire to end the marriage and indicates the initiation of the divorce process. From there, the petitioner’s spouse will be notified that the divorce process has begun.
If you have children, your attorney may advise you to begin developing a parenting plan. A parenting plan incentivizes parents to anticipate issues involving their children as early in the divorce process as possible. Filing a parenting plan may be required by the court in order to move forward in the proceedings. You will typically utilize your parenting plan to propose how you feel that major issues like child custody, visitation, and holiday schedules should be handled during and after the divorce.
Your parenting plan will then be further negotiated and settled during the divorce proceedings.
Please note: in order to file for a divorce in Missouri, you or your spouse must have been a resident in the state for at least 90 days prior to the initial filing.
Because Missouri is a “no fault” divorce state, you may begin filing for a divorce straight away. A “no fault” divorce state does not require that either party take responsibility for the end of the marriage, and that both parties can simply cite “the marriage is irretrievably broken.” With the help of your divorce attorney, you will file your divorce in the courthouse of the county you currently reside in, where your spouse resides, or where you agree to file.
Once your spouse is notified of your intention to initiate divorce proceedings by the Court, it will take at least 30 days from receipt of petition to begin proceedings. Your spouse may be notified by receiving a copy of your petition in person, or they may sign an Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service, which acknowledges receipt of the Petition.
The average case is first heard in a Circuit Court anywhere from 50 to 90 days after the initial Petition is filed. Your divorce lawyer will work with you as much as possible to ensure that your case is heard in court as soon as possible, but in no situation can it be heard until at least thirty days has passed since there was service or a signing of the Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service.
It may be necessary to meet several times in or outside of court to negotiate the terms of the divorce in matters like child custody, marital property, and financial issues. Your lawyer will advise you before court and during negotiation, and ensure your rights are protected.
The divorce will not be rendered final until the Judgment of Dissolution is signed by the Judge and thirty days has elapsed (unless there is a waiver of the right to request a rehearing).
It is generally in your best interest to abstain from using social media during your divorce proceedings and to not discuss the terms of the divorce process before or after the process itself, especially with your children. You may seriously jeopardize your case or open yourself up to a modification.
The process to obtaining a legal separation in Missouri usually involves two types of divorces: a “contested” and “uncontested” divorce. A contested divorce requires a more involved approach between you, your lawyer, your spouse or spouse’s counsel, and the court if both parties cannot reach an agreement on certain aspects of your divorce. This is where having an experienced divorce law attorney on your side can be beneficial, as a contested divorce might contain several rounds of negotiated settlement talks and court visits before your divorce can be granted by the Court.
If you have children or property, your attorney may advise you to have temporary orders issued by the court to account for matters like primary physical child custody or exclusive use of the marital home. In Missouri, these are called Pendente Lite Orders, or PDL Orders. Temporary orders are usually left in effect until the final dissolution has been decreed. However, temporary orders can be changed – though this can be a difficult process once the orders have become the “norm” within the divorce process.
However, if you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the next step would be to pursue litigation. As a truly last resort, litigation can be very frustrating and expensive. Your attorney will work diligently with you as your representative in Court to move towards the most favorable verdict possible for you.
An uncontested divorce in Missouri is the better option for two amicable parties who agree that the marriage has simply run its course and is broken. With an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse have agreed to the terms of the divorce prior to beginning the actual divorce process. The final step would to be file your intention to end the union with the Court.
The uncontested divorce is a great option for a couple that would rather interact with the Court through a specialized family or divorce law firm to complete the divorce as quickly and efficiently as possible. As long as both parties adhere to the agreed terms, they’ll never have to appear in Court.
Is a contested or uncontested divorce better for me?
Though an uncontested divorce is usually less expensive and time intensive, it may not work for you and your spouse’s specific situation. There are certain situations in which an uncontested divorce would be inconsequential or even harmful to your needs throughout the the divorce process. If you are a victim of domestic abuse or violence or disagree with your spouse on fundamental matters, it will be incredibly difficult to negotiate freely with your spouse.
Uncontested divorces depend on a great deal of open communication between spouses in order to settle on an agreement outside of Court. If you or your spouse have little-to-no interaction by choice or by law, you might find your divorce proceedings lacking.
In divorce proceedings, property division can be one of the most contentious issues. This is particularly true of high net worth divorces or divorces where significant mutual property has accumulated between the two spouses. Missouri divorce laws separates property into two main categories:
Marital property: Missouri defines marital property as property accumulated during the marriage, regardless of which spouse acquired the property.
Non-marital property: Missouri considers all non-marital property to be property acquired by one spouse before the marriage. In some special cases, the Court might consider some property acquired during the marriage to be non-marital property–for instance, if one party received an inheritance from a deceased family member or one spouse received a gift from another.
Missouri courts only have the power to legally divide marital property, so it will become very important to you and your attorney to define and prove non-marital property where necessary, especially if you do not have a prenuptial agreement.
*Please note: Missouri divorce laws do not currently include debts in its marital property statutes. The Court can separate responsibilities for debts, but is not required by law to do so. It legally makes no difference to the creditor if your spouse agrees to or is ordered by the Court to pay a joint debt, and can sue both parties if one party doesn’t pay.
In divorce proceedings where children are involved, child custody and child support may be discussed. Child support is the routine transfer of funds from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to properly provide a child with adequate financial support.
Every divorce proceeding is unique, and your financial obligations will be as well if you’ve been ordered to pay child support. You really need to speak with an attorney to ensure that all factors are being considered, including the parenting time credit, when calculating what your child support would be.
Your final divorce case decision will include court orders that specify who has custody of the children, visitation rights and schedules, and how much child support will be paid. Such court orders are effective until the child or children reach the age of 18. However, significant life changes and similar circumstances can deeply impact how well either party can fulfill these court orders, and a modification can be requested.
Many cases might see both parents struggling to adhere to the custody orders, but in other situations, one parent might not be able to move forward. If a parent lost a job, needs to be relocated, or is no longer a safe guardian for the children, then modification of custody should be considered.
The non-custodial parent (or the “payor”) can request a modification through the court to have their child support amount changed or reduced during a difficult economic period. However, if the non-custodial parent is promoted or receives a new job, the custodial parent can also request a modification to increase the child support in reflection of the new income.
Please note: Filing a modification and being granted a modification by the court are two different scenarios. You should never relocate with your child or prevent them for having contact with the other parent until your formal request for a modification has been granted by the court. In the case of emergency, you can utilize legal options with a shorter time frame.
Haefner Law Office offers significant experience in divorce law proceedings and guiding individuals through uncontested and contested divorces. We will fight zealously on your behalf at each stage of the process and will provide you with the information you need to make critical decisions about your case and your future. Contact us online or give us a call today for a free 30 minute phone consultation at (314) 200-6101.