If you've decided to end your marriage, you'll need to begin the divorce process. This article provides an overview of how to file for divorce in Missouri. If you have additional questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for assistance.
In Missouri, courts refer to a divorce as the "dissolution of marriage." The spouse who files for (requests) divorce is called the "petitioner" and the other spouse is the "respondent."
Before you can file for divorce in the state, at least one spouse must have been a Missouri resident for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce. If neither you nor your spouse has lived in Missouri for the required time period, you'll need to wait to file your divorce.
You can file for divorce with or without an attorney. Missouri requires all spouses representing themselves in a divorce to complete a "litigant awareness program," which can be done by either watching an on-line video or reading the written litigant awareness materials. This program provides essential information on how to protect yourself during a divorce. Once completed, the self-represented spouse must fill in a certificate of completion form and file it with the circuit court.
The "Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage" form (legal paperwork requesting the divorce) initiates the divorce process. If there are any children from the marriage (meaning children who are under 18 years of age and still in high school, or children who are unemancipated and under 21 years old), their names must be included so the court may make orders regarding child support and child custody. See Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.025 (2019).
The Missouri Courts website publishes a pamphlet of fill-in divorce forms. These forms request a great deal of information. It's best to read through all of the forms first, gather the necessary information and then type in the forms online. You can print out completed forms for filing with the court.
At the time of filing, the petitioner must either pay a filing fee to the court or request a fee waiver. It's a good idea to bring more than one copy of the petition to the court when you file, so you can use the extra copy for proper service on your spouse.
Missouri has 46 regional circuit courts with each court covering several counties and a court for the city of St. Louis. You can locate your local Missouri circuit court and access county-specific information through the Missouri Judicial Branch website.
Under Missouri law, the respondent spouse must be served with copies of the petition for dissolution by one of the following methods:
Note that you cannot simply hand your spouse a copy of the divorce petition unless your ex has already agreed to accept service from you.
Once you've completed service, your spouse should and complete an "Answer". As part of the answer, the respondent spouse is acknowledging receipt of the divorce petition and that the court has authority over the case.
The answer can also be used to file the respondent's official response to a formally-served divorce petition. In the answer, your spouse can ask for specific relief (like alimony or child support) and state any disagreements with statements contained in your petition.
Both spouses must complete a "Statement of Income and Expenses." This form is used by the judge at a hearing or trial if either side asks for alimony (also referred to as spousal maintenance) or child support.
Generally, you and your spouse will need to exchange information about incomes, expenses, assets, and debts, such as mortgage, credit card, and car loans. Depending on your court's local rules, you may have to provide some of this information to the court as well.
If you and your spouse have minor children, you may be required to file a parenting plan with the court. A parenting plan is a separate document that outlines the children's schedule with each parent and covers all other custody matters regarding how the children will be cared for after the divorce.
Divorcing parents can reach an agreement on custody and other divorce matters. If parents can't agree on custody, they'll have to ask a judge to decide. Each parent can file a separate proposed parenting plan, which the court will review before making its decision.
For more information about divorcing in Missouri, read our section on Missouri Divorce and Family Laws.
Missouri Legal Services provides additional divorce resources and legal assistance to those who qualify.