Divorce and Property Division in Missouri

If you're going through a divorce in Missouri, you should familiarize yourself with Missouri's marital property laws in order to protect your rights.

If you're going through a divorce in Missouri, you should familiarize yourself with Missouri's divorce laws to protect your rights.

Statement of Property and Debt

When you file for dissolution of marriage in Missouri, the law requires you to file several forms, including a statement of property and debt. You must complete and file this form even if you've already divided your property before filing for dissolution.

It's important to understand that the court can't finalize your dissolution of marriage until and unless both spouses complete and sign the document. You can locate the statement and instructions for filling it out on the Missouri Courts official government website.

Types of Property Divided in a Missouri Divorce Proceeding

When couples go through a divorce, they need to address a variety of issues, including how to divvy up their property (assets). Assets can include "real property," such as homes and land, and "personal property," such as bank accounts, cash, cars, furniture, collectibles, jewelry, clothing, bank accounts, investments, and retirement benefits.

Missouri is a "dual-property" state, which means that, for divorce purposes, the court will further break down property into two categories: "marital property" and "non-marital property."

Before you make any decisions about who gets the house in a divorce or what to do with any other property, you'll need to understand the difference between "marital" and "non-marital property." It's essential to make this distinction because family law courts only have the power to divide "marital property."

Marital Property in Missouri

"Marital" property is all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage. Missouri law assumes that all property is marital unless a spouse can prove that something is non-marital. This rule applies to both real and personal property. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.330 (2).)

For the most part, it doesn't matter whether the title is in one spouse's name or both; the law assumes that an asset belongs equally to both spouses if either spouse acquired it after the date the couple married.

There are, however, some important exceptions to this general rule. For instance, if Spouse A adds Spouse B's name to a deed of non-marital property, and Spouse B later proves in court that Spouse A had a "donative" intent (meaning, wanted to make a gift), there is a possibility that the property may be "transmuted" (changed) to marital property.

These and other exceptions can be difficult to analyze on your own. If you're having trouble identifying property in your divorce, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.

Nonmarital or Separate Property in Missouri

"Nonmarital" property (also referred to as "separate" property) is everything that's not marital, and it belongs to only one spouse. The general rule is that the court does not divide separate property during a divorce, and it stays with the spouse that acquired it.

The most common type of non-marital property is something that was acquired before the marriage, for example, a valuable piece of jewelry or a car that one of the spouses owned outright prior to the marriage.

But there are other kinds of non-marital property under Missouri law, which have nothing to do with the date of purchase or acquisition. For example, if one spouse inherits something from a relative during the marriage, the inheritance is that spouse's separate property. Or if a spouse receives a gift, even from the other spouse, that's also considered non-marital.

Separate property can also be identified prior to marriage. Spouses can write a prenuptial agreement before their marriage, which explicitly states what property is marital and what's separate. They will be bound to follow the terms of the agreement if they decide to divorce.

Finally, if spouses decide to legally separate (instead of divorce), all property they acquire after getting a separation decree is non-marital. This is different from the "date of separation" used for purposes of filing for divorce. When spouses split up, and one files for divorce, they will need to list the date they separated in the court papers. The court will use the separation date to decide the value of assets. However, everything acquired after filing for divorce is still assumed to be marital property up until the divorce is final.

Commingled Property

"Commingling" property is very common and refers to blending nonmarital property with marital property.

Let's say, for example, that Spouse A inherits money before the marriage and uses it for a down payment on a house. After this, Spouse A marries Spouse B, and they live in the home. During their marriage, they use marital income to pay the monthly mortgage. In this case, they have commingled a real property asset by using marital funds to pay down the mortgage on a separate property home.

To sort things out in such cases, Missouri courts use a formula to fairly compensate Spouse A for any contributions made toward the home both before and after the marriage. Spouse A will get a non-marital and marital percentage that reflects his or her total contribution and any appreciation in value. In contrast, Spouse B will only get a marital interest.

How Do Courts Divide Property in Missouri?

If you're planning a divorce, you have two basic options regarding the division of property.

Reach a property agreement with your spouse

First, you can reach an agreement with your spouse about how you will divide your property. Working with your spouse is the ideal solution because it gives you both control of the situation instead of leaving it up to a judge who may not fully understand all of the circumstances of your particular case.

It's common for spouses to reach out-of-court property agreements, especially when they don't have many assets or when they're able to cooperate with each other. However, even if your case seems relatively straightforward, you may want to consult with an experienced family law attorney that can make sure your rights are fully protected and help you draft or review any agreement(s).

Let a judge decide using the equitable distribution method

The other alternative is to go to court and let a judge decide. Missouri judges can only divide marital property; separate property is not part of the overall distribution.

States typically divide property according to two standards: community property or equitable division. Missouri is an "equitable distribution" state, which means judges will divide marital property in a way they believe is equitable (fair), but not necessarily equal. A court doesn't have to give each spouse a 50% share of the marital assets. Spouse A could receive 65% of the marital property, and Spouse B only 35%, as long as the division is fair and reasonable.

In determining a fair division of property, courts must consider all of the following factors:

  • the spouses' economic circumstances (meaning, how they're faring financially, and what their prospects are for future income based on their abilities to earn) at the time of the divorce
  • whether and how much each spouse contributed to the acquisition of the property
  • the value of either spouse's non-marital property
  • the spouses' behavior during the marriage (e.g., the court may reduce a spouse's property award if that spouse squandered marital assets), and
  • custodial arrangements for the minor children (if any). (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.330)

Based on these factors, a court will issue a property settlement that it believes awards each spouse a fair share of the total marital property. The property settlement will apportion (assign) any marital debts as well. The final property award will calculate and offset debts.

Proving Your Property Is Separate

Missouri's divorce courts start with the assumption that all property a couple acquires after they're officially married is marital property. If you want the court to award you separate property, you'll have to prove to the judge that it's non-marital.

Missouri follows a principle called "the source of funds rule,"—meaning that when a court is deciding whether property is marital or separate, it will examine who paid for the property and how. The court will divide marital property equitably, but judges award property that's separate to the rightful owner.

If you can prove that you paid for or obtained an asset without a contribution from your spouse, the judge will award you your separate share. But, if you own any separate property that appreciated in value because your spouse helped pay for it during the marriage, such as with the commingled house example above, then your spouse will get a share too.

Resources

Representing Yourself in Missouri Courts, Access to Family Courts, official state website.

Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce) forms in Missouri, Missouri Court's official website.

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