Along with the emotional and practical aspects of ending a marriage, getting divorce requires navigating the legal system in Missouri. That might seem daunting at first, but it doesn't have to be all that difficult—especially if you and your spouse can cooperate. Here's what you need to know about the divorce process in Missouri.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce (known as "dissolution of marriage" in Missouri), you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
To get a divorce in Missouri, either you or your spouse must have been a resident of the state, or been stationed there as part of military duty, for 90 days just before you file the initial divorce papers. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.305.1 (2022).)
All states require a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for getting divorced. Missouri has only one ground for divorce: that your marriage is "irretrievably broken." The judge must find that there's no reasonable chance your marriage can be saved. If your spouse denies that your marriage is beyond repair, you'll have to convince the judge that one of the following is true:
(Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 452.305, 452.320 (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Missouri, the process will be easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce. But for your case to be uncontested, you and your spouse need to work out a divorce settlement agreement (known as a separation agreement in Missouri), which may later become part of your divorce judgment. The agreement must cover all the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Missouri has very specific requirements for the parenting plan. Among other things, it must include:
(Mo. Stat. § 452.310.8 (2022).)
If there are any issues you can't agree on by the time you file your divorce papers, your case will at least start out as a contested divorce.
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself, without hiring a lawyer. A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage. But it will take some time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Missouri.
That's one reason that Missouri courts require that all spouses who are representing themselves in a divorce must complete a "Litigant Awareness Program," by watching an on-line video or reading written materials. This program provides essential information on all of the steps in the Missouri divorce process, as well as how to protect yourself during a divorce.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll follow a traditional contested divorce route. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for those who are handling their own divorce.
You can download the court-approved divorce forms and instructions from the Dissolution of Marriage page on the Missouri Courts website. These forms are designed only for couples who are filing for an uncontested divorce.
As the one who's starting the divorce process, you're the "petitioner." Your spouse is the "respondent." The main forms that you'll need to complete include:
You may ask your spouse to complete the Respondent's Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Then, when you file that document along with your petition, you'll be able to skip some steps in the divorce process (explained below).
Make sure that you and your spouse also have the completion certificates from the Litigant Awareness Program, which you'll have to file along with the rest of the divorce paperwork.
It's a good idea to check with the court clerk's office where you'll be filing the divorce papers (more on that below) to see if the local district requires any additional forms.
Once you've completed and signed the forms (in front of a notary, when required), take the divorce papers for filing with the district court clerk's office in the county where you or your spouse lives. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.300.5 (2020).) If you're filing your spouse's answer along with the other documents, you only need to bring the original set of papers to the court. Otherwise, you'll file both the original and a copy of all the documents, and you'll need to get a summons from the clerk.
Be prepared for the fact that courts charge fees to file legal documents. In Missouri, the filing fees for divorce vary from county to county, and some counties charge more for divorces involving children. The fees typically range from about $125 to $200. Check with your local court clerk's office ahead of time to find out how much the fee will be and the methods of payment that are accepted.
If you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you may submit a request for a fee waiver by filing a "Motion and Affidavit in Support of Request to Proceed as a Poor Person."
Even with an uncontested divorce, you might need to take additional steps to move your case along.
You won't have to go through the formal legal process of serving the divorce papers if you've filed your spouse's answer along with the petition and other divorce papers. Just make sure that both of you have complete copies of all the documents.
When you do need to complete what's known as "service of process," there are different ways of delivering the divorce papers to your spouse:
(Mo. Rules Civ. Proc., rules 54.13, 54.14, 54.16 (2022).)
If you haven't already filed your spouse's answer along with the dissolution petition, your spouse will ordinarily have 30 days to file an answer after being served with the summons and petition. (Mo. Rules Civ. Proc., rule 55.25(a) (2022).) With the answer, your spouse should also file a Statement of Property and Debt and Proposed Separation Agreement.
When a respondent spouse doesn't file answer in time, the judge may enter a divorce judgment based on what's requested in the petition.
Local court rules in Missouri require divorcing parents with minor children to complete a parent or child custody education program soon after the start of the case. You'll need to file a certificate showing that you've completed the program within 45 days after you file or are served with the divorce petition. But if you take care of this before you file, you can include the certificates with the rest of your divorce papers and save a trip to the courthouse.
Check with your local court clerk to find out about the court-sponsored parent education programs in your county.
The amount of time it will take to get your final divorce will depend largely on whether your case is contested or uncontested
Missouri has a 30-day waiting period (starting from when you filed the divorce papers) before the judge may sign your final dissolution judgment. But it usually takes longer than that, depending on whether you've filed all the required documents, as well the caseload and availability of judges in your local court.
Typically, you'll need to attend a hearing. But in some Missouri counties, couples with uncontested divorces might be able to skip the hearing and simply have a judge review their settlement agreement and other documents before deciding whether to sign the judgment. Here again, check with the court clerk to see if you need to request a hearing.
If your case is contested, and you aren't able to settle all your issues at some point during the process, you'll have a trial. After hearing testimony, a judge will make a decision on those issues that remain unresolved. This is by far the longest route to obtaining your divorce judgment. It can take up to a year or more, depending on how complex your case is. Going to trial will also drive up the cost of divorce significantly.