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A Guide to Divorce in Missouri
Simple Answers to Complex Questions
By Cary J. Mogerman, Joseph J. Kodner
Addicus Books, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Cary J. Mogerman and Joseph J. Kodner
All rights reserved.
Understanding the Divorce Process
Just the word "divorce," standing alone, can evoke an emotional, visceral response. Why? One reason is that at its root, divorce terminates what once represented a loving, mutually beneficial relationship. Although different people have different preconceived notions regarding divorce, frequently, these notions derive from sources that portray divorce in a less than realistic light. Without a frame of reference, the entire process can become overwhelming.
At a time when your life can feel like it's out of control, sometimes the smallest bit of predictability can bring a degree of comfort. The outcome of many aspects of your divorce and consequently your future will remain unknown while your divorce is pending. This lack of certainty may serve as a source of both fear and anxiety.
Most divorces proceed in a step-by-step manner. Despite the issues that are unique to your divorce, you can generally count on one phase of your divorce following the next. Sometimes just realizing you are completing stages and moving forward with your divorce can reassure you that it won't go on forever.
By developing an understanding of the divorce process, you can reduce the anxiety that comes along with being involved in an unfamiliar process. When your attorney starts talking about "depositions," "interrogatories" or "subpoenas," your understanding of the playing field, however basic, will give you the tools to cope. When you understand the function and value of each step in the divorce process, you will be prepared to deal with what comes next.
1.1 What is my first step in seeking a divorce?
Whether you have come to the conclusion to proceed with a divorce, your spouse has informed you of his/her intent to proceed with a divorce or you are merely exploring your options for what may later come to pass, taking the first step often proves difficult. Your divorce represents one of, if not the most, important legal and financial transactions of your life. As with any endeavor, how you start the process can significantly impact the final outcome. It therefore behooves you to take the right first steps, which, in most circumstances involves obtaining legal representation.
While anyone with a valid law license can represent you in a divorce proceeding, there are significant benefits to working with a law firm that handles divorces as a regular part of its law practice. Attorneys with experience in divorce have the knowledge and experience to guide you through the complexities and issues that they encounter on a daily basis.
With the proliferation of website optimization, attorney referral websites and ranking websites, the amount of information available may seem daunting. The attorney who advertises the most may not be the best choice. Oftentimes, the best recommendations come from people who have knowledge of a lawyer's experience and reputation. Regardless of the information you receive from others, it is critical that you select an attorney with whom you feel comfortable and whose approach to your case makes sense to you. You may have to meet with several lawyers before you find the right match.
Before your initial consultation ask what documents the lawyer would like you to bring with you. Make a list of your questions to bring to your first meeting. Start making plans for how you will pay your attorney to begin work on your case.
1.2 Must I have an attorney to get a divorce in Missouri?
No, but it is a good idea to do so. Proceeding without an attorney is not advised. Although not mandatory, hiring an attorney can aid you in innumerable ways. Foremost, an attorney will advise you of your rights and can inform you as to the range of likely outcomes in the event of trial. Very few spouses stand on equal ground with one another when it comes to bargaining power. More often than not, retaining an attorney helps to counteract this disparity and results in better-informed decision-making. Divorce judgments are products of legal proceedings, and carry with them numerous implications for the future including tax consequences, property rights, debt allocation, and indemnification rights. You will be far better served by investing in competent legal representation to insure that these issues are properly addressed than hoping for the best without an attorney.
If you are considering proceeding without an attorney, at a minimum have an initial consultation with an attorney to discuss your rights and duties under the law. Meeting with a lawyer can help you decide whether to proceed on your own. If you elect not to retain counsel, there are resources available through the courts to assist you in the divorce process. The Missouri judiciary at www.selfrepresent.mo.gov has established a webpage with information about self-representation. Call your local courthouse to see whether there is a self-help desk available to provide assistance.
1.3 What steps are taken during the divorce process?
While every person's divorce is unique, as a general matter, the typical divorce in Missouri involves the steps listed below.
Obtain referrals for several attorneys.
Schedule appointments for initial consultations with attorneys.
Prepare a list of questions and gather relevant documents for your initial consultations.
Meet for initial consultations with several different attorneys.
Select the attorney that represents the best fit for your goals and approach.
Carefully review the fee agreement and ask and resolve any questions you may have about its terms before you sign.
Pay the attorney the agreed-upon fee or advance.
Provide requested information and documents to your attorney, and take any other actions as advised by the attorney.
The attorney will prepare the petition for dissolution of marriage, financial disclosures and, if applicable, motions for temporary orders for your review and signature.
The attorney will prepare and file the petition for dissolution of marriage, and other required documents with clerk of the court.
In consultation with your attorney, elect the method of how to serve your spouse with the petition for dissolution of marriage and associated paperwork. Service may be obtained via the sheriff, special process server or voluntary entry of appearance by your spouse or his or her attorney.
After being served or entering their appearance, your spouse has thirty days within which to file responsive pleadings.
If applicable, your attorney will address temporary (while the case remains pending) orders concerning issues including child custody and visitation, child support, spousal maintenance, access to the marital residence and attorney's fees and litigation expenses.
If a mutually agreeable resolution regarding temporary issues cannot be reached, the court may hold a hearing and enter judgment on the temporary issues.
If there are minor children, several, but not all Missouri counties require the parties to attend a parent education class.
Both sides will conduct discovery to obtain information regarding relevant facts, and obtain valuations of assets. Appraisals may be necessary.
Your attorney may advise you that it is necessary to retain experts to provide expert opinion testimony concerning various disputed issues.
Confer with attorney to review facts, identify issues, assess strengths and weaknesses of your case, review strategy, and develop proposals for settlement.
If the parties are able to reach agreement on all issues, one attorney will prepare the necessary settlement documents for approval by the other side. There are frequently several revisions made back and forth.
The court will set a trial date. The procedure for setting trial differs between different counties and varies from obtaining a date near the outset of the case to obtaining a date only after all discovery has been completed.
Pay trial retainer to fund the work needed to prepare for trial and services the day or days of trial.
Parties prepare for trial on unresolved issues. This includes preparation of witnesses, trial exhibits, legal research on contested issues, pretrial motions, trial briefs, preparation of direct and cross-examination of witnesses, preparation of opening statement, subpoena of witnesses, closing argument and suggestions to the court.
Meet with attorney for final trial preparation.
The trial judge may request proposed judgments from both sides.
Judge prepares and signs decree of dissolution.
The parties may file authorized posttrial motions including motions to amend the judgment, for new trial, and to reopen the evidence.
After the judge rules on any posttrial motions, and the judgment has become final, the parties have the right to appeal the judgment.
1.4 Is Missouri a "no-fault" state or do I need grounds for a divorce?
Those filing for divorce frequently misunderstand the term "no fault" as it applies to divorce. Missouri law places it among the majority of states that have been given the label "no fault." This designation simply means that in order to obtain a divorce, neither you nor your spouse are required to prove that the other is "at fault" in order for the court to grant you a divorce. However, even though issues such as infidelity, abuse, and abandonment need not be proven to obtain a divorce, the party seeking the divorce must still prove that the marriage is "irretrievably broken."
This does not mean however, that issues of behavior do not play a role in the divorce process. Missouri law requires the court to consider the conduct of the parties during the marriage in both the division of marital property and the determination of spousal maintenance.
1.5 How will a judge view infidelity or my spouses' infidelity?
The trial court may take infidelity into account in your divorce. Although no Missouri statute refers specifically to infidelity, the statutes governing the division of marital property and spousal maintenance require the court to consider the conduct of the parties during the marriage. While infidelity certainly falls within the definition of conduct, it represents only one type of conduct out of many that the court may consider. The impact of infidelity on the division of property and spousal maintenance will vary according to several factors, including:
When during the marriage the infidelity occurred
The degree to which the extramarital relationship contributed to the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage
The burden that the infidelity placed on the non-offending spouse
The extent to which you or your spouse expended marital funds on the person with whom he/she was having an affair
The impact of infidelity may also vary. Trial judges possess a significant amount of discretion in weighing the factors that the Missouri statutes charge them with considering. Missouri statutes only require that judges consider certain factors. Nothing however, requires them to attach importance to any specific factor.
Unless a spouse's infidelity directly or indirectly impacts custody, the mere existence of an extramarital affair will not bear upon custody proceedings. However, the judge will consider evidence regarding inappropriate exposure of a child to an extramarital affair as well as evidence concerning a parent's dereliction of his or her parental obligations in favor of an extramarital relationship.
1.6 Do I have to get divorced in the same state in which my spouse and I were married?
No. Regardless of the state or country where you were married, you may seek a divorce in Missouri, so long as the jurisdictional requirements of residency are satisfied. Those requirements are addressed in the following question.
1.7 How long must I have lived in Missouri to get a divorce in the state?
Either you or your spouse must have been a resident of Missouri for at least ninety days immediately prior to the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage to meet the residency requirement for a divorce in Missouri. Physical presence alone will not suffice for purposes of residency. In order to establish residency in Missouri for the purpose of obtaining a divorce, your physical presence in the state must be accompanied by an intention to remain indefinitely.
1.8 My spouse has told me she will never "give" me a divorce. Can I get one in Missouri anyway?
Yes, so long as you meet the residency requirements. In Missouri, spousal consent is not required to obtain a divorce. Your spouse may oppose the divorce by challenging your allegation that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If this occurs, you will bear the burden of proving the irretrievable breakdown to the court.
Should your spouse deny the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, you may want to consider amending your petition to include a second count for legal separation. Legal separations share nearly all of the same characteristics of dissolutions of marriage, including the division of property and debt, custody determinations, child support awards and spousal maintenance awards. The only practical difference between the two is that in a legal separation you remain legally married. In Missouri, either party may unilaterally convert a legal separation to a dissolution of marriage after the elapse of ninety days following the entry of a legal separation.
1.9 Can I divorce my spouse in Missouri if he or she lives in another state?
Even if your spouse lives in another state, you can, at a minimum, obtain a divorce so long as you have met Missouri's residency requirements. Missouri recognizes the concept of a divisible divorce. A divisible divorce allows the courts to grant a divorce to anyone who has been a resident of the state for ninety days immediately preceding the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage.
If your spouse does not meet the requirements for personal jurisdiction in Missouri, Missouri courts will not have the authority to determine the other issues that courts typically resolve in divorce proceedings, including spousal maintenance, child custody, child support and/or awards of property located out of the state. If Missouri lacks personal jurisdiction over your spouse, these issues will remain unresolved until a court that has jurisdiction over both you and your spouse can address them.
Because the determination of whether your spouse is subject to personal jurisdiction in Missouri depends on several factors, it is important that you inform your attorney about your spouse's connections to Missouri. Your attorney will discuss with you the facts that will need to be proven and the steps necessary to give your spouse proper notice to ensure that the court will have jurisdiction over your spouse.
1.10 Can I get a divorce even when I don't know where my spouse is currently living?
If you do not know the current whereabouts of your spouse, Missouri law allows you to proceed with a divorce by serving them through publication. In order to proceed in this manner, you will need to file a statement, under oath, listing your spouse's last known address and demonstrating why you cannot obtain service in the other manners authorized by Missouri law. Thereafter you must have a notice, which needs to include specific details of the litigation, published at least once a week for four consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county where you filed the petition for dissolution.
1.11 I just moved to a different county within the state of Missouri. Do I have to file in the county where my spouse lives?
You may file your petition for divorce in either the county where you reside or in the county where your spouse resides. Your spouse has the right to ask the court to transfer the proceeding to the county in which he or she resides. The court may grant this request if your children resided in the same county as your spouse during in the ninety days immediately before you filed the divorce proceeding, or if transferring the case would be in the best interest of your children because the children and at least one parent have a significant connection with the county, and substantial evidence concerning the present or future care, protection and personal relationships of the children exist in the county where your spouse resides.
1.12 I immigrated to Missouri. Will my immigration status stop me from getting a divorce?
If you meet the residency requirements for divorce in Missouri, you can get a divorce here. Talk to an immigration lawyer about the likelihood of a divorce leading to immigration challenges.
Excerpted from A Guide to Divorce in Missouri by Cary J. Mogerman, Joseph J. Kodner. Copyright © 2017 Cary J. Mogerman and Joseph J. Kodner. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Understanding the Divorce Process,
2 Coping with Stress during the Divorce Process,
3 Working with Your Attorney,
4 Attorney Fees and Costs,
5 The Discovery Process,
6 Negotiation, Mediation, and Collaborative Divorce,
7 Emergency: When You Fear Your Spouse,
8 Child Custody,
9 Child Support,
11 Division of Property,
12 Benefits: Insurance, Retirement, and Pensions,
13 Division of Debts,
15 Going to Court,
16 The Appeals Process,
About the Authors,