If you're envisioning divorce as a gut-wrenching process filled with courtroom battles and sky-high attorney's fees, you may not be seeing the whole picture. You can save time, money, and headaches by getting an uncontested divorce (known as "dissolution of marriage" in Missouri), but only if you and your spouse are willing to work together and come to an agreement on the key issues involved in ending your marriage.
This article explains the requirements and process for getting an uncontested divorce in Missouri.
In uncontested divorces, couples reach a settlement agreement (known as a separation agreement in Missouri) on all the critical issues in their case, including:
Missouri has very specific requirements for the parenting plan. Among other things, it must include:
(Mo. Stat. § 452.310 (2022).)
If you and your spouse agree on all of these issues and file all of your forms together when you start the divorce process, you can skip some of the steps in the regular process of filing for dissolution of marriage in Missouri and getting your final divorce decree.
Many couples are able to go through an uncontested divorce without hiring lawyers, either completely on their own or with an online divorce service. 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. The program explains all of the steps in the Missouri divorce process.
However, it's probably wise to speak with a lawyer if your situation is complicated—for instance, if you have complex assets to divide, like a family business or pension plans. At the least, you may want to have a lawyer review your settlement agreement to make sure it's fair and protects your legal rights.
Even if you aren't able to file your divorce along with a complete agreement, you won't necessarily have to end up in court to have a judge resolve the remaining disputes for you. But you will have to start the process of a contested divorce until you're able to reach an agreement—and you might need the help of a mediator and/or lawyers along the way. (Learn how ongoing contested issues raise the cost of divorce.)
In order to get a dissolution of marriage in Missouri, you must meet the residency requirement: Either spouse must have lived in Missouri for the 90-day period just before you started the divorce proceeding (Mo. Stat. § 452.305 (2022)).
Next, you'll need to gather and complete several forms. Although you'll decide which spouse is the "petitioner" and which is the "respondent," that decision doesn't really make a difference in an uncontested divorce since you've already agreed about everything.
The statewide forms, along with instructions, are available on the Missouri Courts Dissolution of Marriage webpage. When you're filing an uncontested divorce, you only need the forms included in the package for "Dissolution of Marriage Forms-Petitioner." That's because the package includes the respondent's answer, which will be filed along with the petition and should indicate agreement with everything in the petition. The package of forms also includes:
You also have the option of using an online divorce service that will provide you with the proper completed forms after you've answered some questions about your situation. Some of these services will mail you hard copies (if you choose), which can be helpful if you don't have access to a printer. They may also guarantee that your state courts will accept the completed forms, so you shouldn't have to worry about making mistakes.
If you're the petitioner, you should bring the papers for filing to the circuit courthouse in the county where either you or your spouse lives (Mo. Stat. § 452.300 (2022)). Some local courts require additional forms, so you should check ahead of time with the circuit clerk's office. You can find location information with this "Find a Court" search tool.
You'll need to pay a filing fee (which varies, depending on your county). If you can't afford to pay, ask the clerk for an application to have the fee waived.
Make sure you give a complete copy of the forms to your spouse. (There's no need for formal service of process when you've filed the respondent's answer and your agreement along with the other paperwork.)
After your divorce paperwork has been filed, Missouri has a 30-day waiting period before a judge may sign your final divorce judgment. Generally, you will need to appear for a final hearing, but some Missouri counties allow the judge to sign the final judgment based on your agreements and other paperwork. If everything is in order and the agreements are fair, the judge will sign the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.