A divorce is called a dissolution of marriage in Missouri. For any married couple, this will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, the issues of child custody and support must also be resolved.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for dissolution of marriage in Missouri, one party must be a resident of the state for at least 90 days. You may file in the Circuit Court in the county where either party resides.
The simplest procedure is an uncontested divorce using a joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, where you and your spouse file together after reaching an agreement on all issues. You begin the divorce procedure by filing your joint Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with various other supporting documents. One of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets, and your agreement regarding any children. These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Missouri, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for dissolution, which requires you to state in the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that “the marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken, and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” There are no fault-based grounds. However, if your spouse (the respondent) denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, you will need to prove one or more of the following facts:
- you find it intolerable to live with your spouse due to your spouse’s adultery,
- you cannot reasonably be expected to live with your spouse due to his or her behavior,
- your spouse has abandoned you for 6 continuous months before filing,
- you and your spouse have lived separate and apart by mutual consent for a continuous period of 12 months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, or
- you and your spouse have lived separate and apart (without mutual consent) for a continuous period of at least 24 months preceding the filing of the petition.
As an alternative, the judge may continue the case for 30 days to 6 months, and suggest (not require) that you seek counseling. The judge may then enter judgment without further proof.
Generally, each party will keep his or her nonmarital property, which is property:
- acquired before the marriage, or after marriage by gift or inheritance,
- acquired in exchange for property acquired prior to marriage or by gift or inheritance,
- acquired by a spouse after a decree of legal separation,
- excluded from marital property by a valid written agreement of the parties, or
- representing any increase in value of nonmarital property.
All other property is marital property. Absent an agreement of the parties, the judge will divide the marital property “as the court deems just,” after considering any relevant factor, including:
- each party’s economic circumstances, including the desirability of awarding the family home, or the right to live in it, to the party having custody of any children,
- each party’s contribution (including as homemaker) to acquisition of marital property,
- the value of the nonmarital property set apart to each party,
- the conduct of the parties during the marriage, and
- the custodial arrangements for minor children.
Alimony in Missouri
Alimony, referred to as maintenance in Missouri, may only be awarded if the party seeking it (1) lacks sufficient property for his or her own needs; and (2) is unable to be self-supporting through employment, or should not be required to seek employment due to child custody responsibilities. Unless the parties have an agreement as to maintenance, the judge will decide the duration and amount of maintenance, after considering all relevant factors, including:
- the financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, the ability to meet his or her needs independently, and any child support that includes a sum for a custodian,
- the time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party seeking maintenance to find appropriate employment,
- the parties’ comparative earning capacities,
- the standard of living established during the marriage,
- each party’s obligations and assets,
- the duration of the marriage,
- the age, and the physical and emotional condition of the party seeking maintenance,
- the ability of the paying party to meet his or her needs while paying maintenance, and
- the conduct of the parties during the marriage.
Child Custody in Missouri
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. This comes down to figuring out how the children’s time will be divided between the parents, and how decisions will be made. The parties, either separately or jointly, must submit a proposed parenting plan within 30 days after the respondent is served with the Petition or filed an appearance with the court. The proposed parenting plan must include (among other things):
- a schedule detailing the time for each child to be with each party,
- a plan detailing how the decision-making rights and responsibilities will be shared, and
- how the expenses of the child will be paid.
If you and your spouse can reach an agreement on custody, it will be accepted by the judge unless it is determined not to be in the child’s best interest. If you cannot reach a custody agreement, the judge will decide the issue, after considering the following factors:
- the wishes of the parties as to custody and their proposed parenting plan or plans,
- each party’s ability and willingness to perform their parental functions,
- the relationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other significant person,
- which party is more likely to allow meaningful contact with the other party,
- the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community,
- the mental and physical health of all person involved, including any history of abuse,
- the intention of either party to relocate the principal residence of the child, and
- the wishes of the child.
Child Support in Missouri
Child support is determined by taking into account the following factors:
- the financial needs and resources of the child,
- the financial resources and needs of the parties,
- the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been ended,
- the physical and emotional condition of the child, and the child’s educational needs,
- the custody arrangements, including the amount of time the child spends with each parent and the expenses associated with the custody or visitation arrangements, and
- the reasonable work-related child care expenses of each party.
A judgment may not be entered until 30 days after filing. A party may change their name, but must publish required notices in a newspaper just like in any name change request.
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