Grounds for Divorce in Missouri

Learn more about the divorce process in Missouri.

By , Attorney

Grounds for Divorce: Missouri Is a Modified No-Fault Divorce State

Fault states allow a spouse to allege a reason for the breakdown of the marriage, such as adultery or insanity. In true no-fault states, like Michigan and California, a person can ask the court for a divorce without needing a reason, other than a breakdown of their marriage. In these states, the court will not consider evidence of fault in the context of granting the divorce. Instead, the spouse asking for the divorce needs to simply state the marriage is broken beyond repair without having to submit any proof that the relationship is over.

Missouri has adopted a no-fault approach, but the spouse asking for the divorce must show that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that neither spouse can repair it.

You might wonder how you can convince a judge that your spouse's actions caused the end of your marriage, but typically your testimony will be enough. It'll be your job to convince a judge that your spouse's actions make it impossible or impractical for you to remain married.

For example, in one Missouri divorce case, a husband testified that his wife nagged, had a violent temper, was argumentative and belittling, and withheld sexual relations throughout the 20-year marriage. His testimony was enough for a judge to rule that his marriage was so badly damaged that a divorce was necessary.

In another case, a wife testified that she no longer trusted her husband because he made promises to her before the marriage, and he failed to follow through, he was controlling, and he wouldn't compromise on any views that conflicted with his wife. Again, the court agreed that the marriage was beyond repair, so the judge granted the wife's petition.

Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation?

Missouri is unique in that it allows you to file for a dissolution of marriage (divorce) or legal separation. Both processes follow the same steps and allow a judge to decide property division, custody, and financial support matters, but legal separation will not terminate your marriage. Some couples choose separation over divorce for a variety of reasons— religion might prohibit divorce, separation might be the best decision for the children, or it may be the best financial plan for the couple.

One spouse may ask the court for a divorce, while the other asks for a legal separation. If that's the case, the spouse asking for a legal separation must prove to the court that the marriage is not irretrievably broken. Let's be honest, if one spouse is requesting a divorce, chances are that neither spouse can fix the marriage, but if you can convince a judge otherwise, you may win your argument. If you fail, the law allows the judge to make a final decision whether to issue a divorce or separation.

Separate Maintenance

One additional type of divorce filing in Missouri is separate maintenance. A common misconception is that legal separation and separate maintenance are the same, which is incorrect. In a legal separation, courts can decide custody, property division, child support, and alimony, while separate maintenance only permits the court to make orders involving child support and alimony.

What Must I Prove Before Filing?

Like most states, Missouri has a residency requirement that you must meet before you can file for divorce or legal separation. Couples must show that at least one spouse was a resident of the state for at least 90-days before filing for divorce or separation.

Additionally, the state requires the courts to wait for at least 30-days after the couples file before it can take any action on the case. Legislators adopted this "cooling off period" because they believed that some couples may salvage their relationship if they have more time to work together before the divorce is final. While this isn't always the case, some couples may find the extra time beneficial to attend therapy sessions, or simply work together on resolving their differences.

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