This article provides you with some basic information about various aspects of domestic relations laws in the State of Missouri. However, some of the issues covered here may not even come up in your divorce case. Every divorce matter is different and results are based on the specific facts of your case. If you have specific questions about divorce in Missouri, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for advice.
Starting the Divorce Process
In the State of Missouri, a divorce is also commonly referred to as a “dissolution of marriage.” The spouse seeking the divorce (“moving spouse”) can initiate the process by completing a “petition for divorce” (legal paperwork requesting the dissolution of marriage), which is generally filed in the county where the moving spouse lives.
After the petition is filed, appropriate papers (called a “summons”) are prepared by the clerk of the court and forwarded to the sheriff of the county where the other spouse can be served.
The other party, called the “respondent” in a divorce action, must be “served” with the divorce paperwork (meaning the sheriff personally delivers the divorce paperwork to the other party – and does not just drop it in the mail slot). Service occurs at the address you provide, which is generally either the respondent’s home or workplace. It’s important to provide the address where the respondent is most likely to be found to avoid undue delay in completing service.
This process usually takes approximately 10 days. In some cases, a special process server may be hired to serve the summons and divorce paperwork on your spouse for an extra cost.
In certain counties, you must complete a statement of property and a statement of income and expenses (together referred to as “financial statements”) and file them with your petition. These statements are extremely important to the analysis of your case, so you should fill these out as completely and accurately as possible.
If you have any questions or problems completing the statements, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney for help.
Grounds for Divorce
The normal grounds for dissolution of marriage in Missouri are the allegations that the marriage is "irretrievably broken" and that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.
Time to Respond and Default Judgment
After service of the summons, the respondent has 30 days to file a written response with the court. This response must also be mailed to the moving spouse (or the moving spouse’s attorney). If no response is filed within the 30 days, the moving party may request a default judgment. This means that the moving spouse can proceed in court without the other party’s participation.
Child Custody Issues and a Parenting Plan
Any domestic relations divorce case that involves the custody of children requires the filing of a proposed “parenting plan." St. Louis County has several different parenting plan forms that may serve as samples, but there may be different, more specialized plans that are applicable to your case. You need to discuss this with your attorney.
Motion for Temporary Child Support, Custody, Maintenance, Attorney's Fees, Costs, Suit Monies
Once a dissolution or divorce case is filed and service has been obtained, either party may file a Motion for Temporary Orders (called a PDL). The purpose of this Motion is to request the Court to order one party to provide for child support, maintenance and/or the payment of some debts for the period during which the case is pending.
Child support is money paid by one parent to the other parent to assist in the support of the minor children. In the State of Missouri, the Supreme Court has developed uniform child support guidelines (commonly referred to as the Form 14). These guidelines establish a presumption of the amount of child support to be paid and are generally based upon the monthly gross income of both of the parties. As each case is different, you should discuss the child support guidelines with your attorney.
Maintenance, which is also called alimony, is money paid by one spouse to the other spouse for financial support. Maintenance received is generally taxable income to the party receiving it, and deductible to the person paying it, if it is paid pursuant to a court order or written agreement and certain other requirements are met.
Each case is different and an award of maintenance is dependent upon the circumstances of your particular case. No person is automatically "entitled" to maintenance. There are no Supreme Court uniform guidelines by which the amount of maintenance is to be determined. The trial judge has broad discretion in determining whether to award maintenance and, if so, for what amount and for what period of time.
According to the Rules of Court, each party is entitled to "discover," under oath, certain relevant facts known by the other party. The tools of discovery most commonly used in domestic cases are the following:
- Interrogatories – these are written questions submitted to the opposing party that must be answered under oath within 30 days.
- Depositions - each party has the right to require the other party or generally any other witness to answer questions, under oath, in person, usually in the attorney's office. Both lawyers are present during this questioning, and the testimony given is under oath. All of these questions and answers are then transcribed into a written record (called a transcript), which may be used in court.
- Request for Production of Documents - Each party has the right to require the other party to produce certain documents in their possession, or under their control, for inspection. These documents may include canceled checks, bank statements, income tax returns, credit card information, stock information, business records and other relevant documents.
The purpose of these tools is to enable each party’s attorney to discover information so that they can be ready for trial or resolution of the case by settlement. These tools provide assistance in locating, identifying, and valuing all property. These tools also provide assistance in addressing other divorce-related issues that the court must also consider, such as child custody, child support, maintenance, allocation of debts and whether to award attorneys fees and litigation costs.
After discovery is completed, the case is ready for trial or settlement. If the parties are in agreement as to all issues and desire to settle the case, it is called a "non-contested" case. When a settlement is reached, the attorneys will draft an agreement setting forth all the provisions of that settlement and both parties will have an opportunity to review the agreement to make sure it expresses their understanding of the settlement. A copy is then filed with the court at the time of the hearing.
One of the parties must generally be present at the hearing to testify. The court will examine the settlement agreement to make sure that it satisfies certain basic legal requirements. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will grant the parties a judgment of dissolution.
If the parties cannot come to a settlement, the court will set a trial date. Both parties will generally testify at the hearing, and the Court will consider their testimony and other evidence presented at the hearing. Sometimes, additional witnesses are necessary, including what we call "expert witnesses," (such as a doctor, psychologist, real estate appraiser or actuary). An expert witness will charge a fee for his or her time for preparation and for testifying.
In St. Louis County and St. Louis City, cases are set for trial after a conference with the judge and a review of all parties' "trial" calendars. Anticipate receiving a trial setting within fourteen 14 to 60 days of the request. The length of time necessary to set a case will depend to a large extent on the nature of the issues to be tried (that is, custody and support and/or property or debt division) and the anticipated length of the trial on those issues, but also on the particular judge's style and schedule.