Below, you'll find answers to some common questions about getting a divorce in Missouri. For more information on Missouri family law, see our Missouri Divorce and Family Law page. You can find all of our articles on getting a divorce in our Divorce Process area.
If you still have questions about divorce in Missouri, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.
What is a "dissolution of marriage"?
In most jurisdictions, the legal process for ending a marriage is called “divorce.” In Missouri, it is called dissolution, because the bonds of matrimony are dissolved.
Is there anything I should know before filing for dissolution of marriage?
First and foremost, you should understand that when divorcing spouses agree and get along, the road to dissolution is easy; when they disagree and quarrel, the road is long, hard and expensive.
Missouri has a separate Family Court, with judges who see dissolution proceedings on a daily basis and who closely scrutinize any proceeding involving children. Rigorous standards are set and followed for determining custody issues, such as who gets the kids, where, when, how and with what restrictions.
Are there any alternatives to court?
In Missouri, there has been a major movement towards alternative dispute resolution especially regarding parenting issues, such as custody and visitation. You will have to go to mediation if you cannot agree on a parenting plan; if the court thinks it is necessary or will be helpful, you will have to continue mediating separate issues.
If you quarrel over parenting issues, a guardian ad litem will be appointed for your children to represent their interests.
The parties share the cost of all these extra services, so you are well advised to try to agree from the start or you will end up spending thousands of dollars on professionals who will then make recommendations to the court about how your children should spend their lives. Meanwhile, your children will become pawns in your fight, and might end up hating both of you. Pick your fights carefully.
How do I start my case to get a dissolution of marriage?
To start a dissolution case, you must:
- Complete and file a “petition for dissolution,” which is the initial pleading (legal document) that tells the court who you are, who your spouse is, where you were married, and other facts about your situation. You must include all of the information required by statute (Section 452.310.2).
- Prepare and file a parenting plan, if you have minor children. (Section 452.310.8.)
- File a Family Court Information Sheet, in some counties.
- Cause the court to issue a “summons” (a paper telling the other spouse that the case has been started and giving them a copy of the petition).
- Pay a filing fee, which is generally set by the
local rules of the circuit court in which your case is filed.
If you hire an attorney, make sure the attorney practices in the county where you live. That county's court rules will dictate some of the proceedings, and an experienced attorney will know which forms to file by when.
If you decide not to hire an attorney, you will be responsible for knowing and following state and county rules for divorce actions.
What are the grounds for a dissolution of marriage in Missouri?
Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, which means if one party testifies that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” and there is no likelihood the relationship can be saved, the spouses will get their dissolution and the marriage will be legally over. There is no need for one spouse to blame the other or tell the court what caused the marriage to end.
Do I have to be a resident of the state of Missouri to file for a dissolution in the state?
Yes. You or your spouse must have been a resident of the state of Missouri for at least 90 days before you can file a petition for dissolution. This is called the "residency requirement"
Where do I file my case?
In the county where you reside or the county where your spouse resides.
What does the other spouse do once a "petition for dissolution" is filed?
The other spouse prepares and files a legal document called an "answer." It must admit or deny the facts stated in the petition. The answer must be filed no later than 30 days after the petition is served.
What if the other spouse doesn’t answer?
If the other spouse doesn't file an answer, he or she is technically in default. This means that the court could enter a default judgment granting the dissolution. However, you can't get a money judgment against a person in default. Also, the court is likely to set aside the default if the other spouse requests it.
How do I file my petition if I can't find my spouse?
If you don't know where your spouse is, you can do one of several things:
- You can serve your petition by “publication,” which typically requires running a notice in a court-approved newspaper or other publication. This is an acceptable way to technically achieve service, but you can't do much except actually get divorced.
- You can hire a private investigator to locate your spouse, which can be especially if you believe your spouse is still in the area.
- You can run a records check online to look for a last known address or other contact information, including his or her place of employment, or you can ask your lawyer or investigator do so.
What happens after my spouse files an answer?
It depends on which county has your case, whether there are children, what kind of debts and property you have, and so forth.
In general, though, you can expect the following:
- The court may issue temporary orders to preserve the status quo while the case is pending. Some courts issue a blanket, form order. Other courts wait for a party to request these orders.
- Paperwork discovery is exchanged, usually on pre-printed forms that require you to exchange documents and information and to report all of your income, property, and debts, both marital and non-marital.
- You may have to attend an educational class if you have minor children.
- You will also have to attend mediation if you have minor children.
- When the other side has answered (or if 30 days from the date of service has passed) you can get a court date. As with everything, local rules dictate exactly how you get a court date, so check your county rules.
- After the two sides exchange information about their debts, assets, income, and property, the lawyers should talk to each other and decide whether or not the case can be settled. If it can, one side will draft a proposed agreement and send it to the other side to review.
Do we split our property 50/50?
Missouri is not a community property (50/50) state. Instead, Missouri family law courts divide marital property by equitable distribution, which means they will distribute marital property between spouses in whatever way they believe is equitable (fair), but not necessarily equally.
When making decisions about property division, the court takes certain factors into consideration, including:
- each spouse's economic circumstances
- the contribution of each spouse to acquisition of property
- the value of each person's nonmarital property
- the conduct of the parties (what we used to call "grounds for divorce"), and
- where the children will live (often, the person who gets the kids also gets the house).
Even under this system though, courts will generally make an equal division, unless there are compelling reasons not to do that. See Divorce and Property Division in Missouri (Nolo) for more information on how property is divided.
How is alimony decided?
Not so long ago, husbands were routinely ordered to pay alimony. These days, what we used to call "alimony" is now called "maintenance" in Missouri, and it is not as easy to get.
Now, there is a threshold test that you have to meet to get maintenance. You must:
- lack sufficient property, including marital property given to you in the dissolution, to provide for your needs, and
- be unable to support yourself through a job or because you are the custodian of a child whose condition or circumstances make it inappropriate for you to work.
If you pass that test, then the court considers ten factors to decide on the amount of maintenance:
- the financial resources of person asking for maintenance
- the time needed to for the person seeking maintenance to get the education or training necessary to get a job
- the relative earning power of each person
- the standard of living during marriage
- each person's debts and assets (including those awarded to each in the divorce)
- how long the marriage lasted
- the age and physical and emotional condition of each person
- whether the paying spouse can meet his or her own needs while paying maintenance
- the conduct of each spouse during marriage, and
- any other relevant facts (for example, if one spouse put the other through school or supported the other during the marriage).
See Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Missouri to learn more.
What will happen to the children?
Missouri law favors joint custody, in which the parents share major decisions and each has significant (although not necessary equal) time with the child.
There is a long, complex and important scheme for determining child custody in Missouri, set forth in Section 452.330. For more information on custody decisions, see Child Custody in Missouri: The Best Interests of the Child.
You would be wise to have a local Missouri attorney, skilled and competent in custody matters, to assist you in developing and advocating a parenting plan that the judge assigned to your case will accept.
What about child support?
Child support is calculated through the use of a mathematical equation that takes into account the parents' income, how much time each parent spends with the child, the child's needs, and other factors. See Child Support Laws in Missouri to learn more about how child support is calculated.
Like most states, Missouri has an online child support calculator that will help you figure out how much you can expect to pay or receive.
What advice would you give someone filing for divorce?
One of the most important things to remember about dissolution of marriage is that you once loved this person, and, if you have children together, you certainly love the children.
But don't let the fact that you once loved them excuse abuse, neglect, or interference with your role as an active parent. Be clear and proactive about your rights and the rights of your children. Don't be petty, but don't be a doormat. And don't use your children as pawns.