Missouri Divorce FAQ

Get answers to the most common questions about divorce in Missouri, including how much it costs, how long it takes, and how to get help.

By , Retired Judge

The divorce process can often seem overwhelming. You have to deal with the emotional and practical changes that come with ending a marriage, while trying to navigate a legal system that's likely completely foreign to you. And then there are the money worries that are almost always in the picture. But you can find answers to your questions about divorce laws in Missouri, as well as the help you need.

Who can file for divorce in Missouri?

In order to get a Missouri divorce (called "dissolution of marriage"), either you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least 90 days immediately before you file the initial divorce papers. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.305.1 (2022).)

Note that gay and lesbian couples have the same legal rights in divorce as opposite sex couples. But same-sex divorce sometimes involves extra complications, particularly for couples who lived together before same-sex marriage was legal.

What are the legal grounds for divorce in Missouri?

Missouri is a "no-fault" divorce state. The only legally accepted reason ("ground") for divorce in Missouri is that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This just means that you and your spouse can't get along, and there's no reasonable chance of that situation changing.

When a state only recognizes no-fault divorce, it usually means the courts won't consider a spouse's misconduct in deciding whether to grant the divorce. But Missouri bends that standard a bit. If your spouse denies that your marriage is irretrievably broken, you'll have to convince the judge that one of the following is true:

  • it's not reasonable to expect that you could keep living together, given your spouse's behavior
  • you can't tolerate living together because of your spouse's adultery
  • your spouse abandoned you for at least six months before you filed the divorce papers, or
  • you lived apart from your spouse for at least a year before you filed for divorce, or at least two years if one of you didn't agree to the separation.

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.320 (2022).)

Does Missouri require separation before divorce?

Missouri doesn't require that spouses separate before divorce (unless a separation is the only way you can prove that your marriage is irretrievably broken, as discussed above). But many couples do separate at some point during the process of ending their marriage. If you're thinking about separating, you should look into whether moving out of the family home—either before or during divorce—would be in your best interest.

Note that Missouri also offers "legal separation" as an alternative to divorce. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 452.305 (2022).)

How much does divorce cost in Missouri?

You'll generally need to pay a fee to file your divorce papers, unless you apply and qualify for a waiver based on your low income. The filing fees vary from county to county in Missouri, typically ranging from about $125 to $200. Check with the court clerk in the county where you're filing to find out how much the fee will be and to get an application for a waiver if you can't afford to pay it.

In situations where you must "served" your spouse with the divorce papers (a method of legal delivery), you'll probably incur a small fee for that service. (Learn more about how to file for a Missouri divorce and the service requirements.)

Beyond the filing fee, the cost of divorce will depend on the specifics of your case, especially:

  • whether you can file for an uncontested divorce (meaning you and your spouse have agreed about all of the legal issues), which would make it more likely that you could get a DIY divorce, and
  • whether you'll need to hire a lawyer to handle your divorce—and if you do, how much the attorney charges per hour and how long it will take to resolve the disputes in your case.

How long will it take to get a divorce in Missouri?

A judge may not sign your final divorce decree until at least 30 days have passed since you filed the initial paperwork.

Beyond the mandatory 30-day waiting period, the actual amount of time your divorce will take depends on the circumstances in your case. If your divorce is contested, you'll have to go through a number of legal steps that can add several months to the process. And if you and your spouse aren't able to reach a settlement agreement at some point in the process (more on that below), going to trial will require even more time—usually a year or more. Court backlogs can also make the entire process take longer.

How is marital property divided in Missouri?

Courts in Missouri distribute marital property based on the principle of "equitable distribution." This means judges will divide property based on what they believe is fair under the circumstances of each case.

Attributing a value to each asset is usually pretty straightforward. But you may need expert help to divide complicated assets, like a family-owned business or retirement accounts.

How is child custody decided in Missouri?

All decisions about the legal and physical custody of children in any Missouri divorce—even a judge's decision whether to approve the parent's custody agreement—must be based on what would be in the children's best interests.

Judges will consider several factors when they make custody decisions. Some of these factors are:

  • each parent's wishes as to custody
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, and
  • either parent's history of domestic violence.

The judge may also consider the custody preferences of children. Missouri law doesn't set an age when judges must interview children and consider their wishes. Generally, however, judges will take into account children's maturity and the reasons they want to live with one or the other parent. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 452.375, 452.385 (2022).)

What are the child support guidelines in Missouri?

Like all states in the U.S., Missouri has guidelines that include detailed rules for deciding who must pay child support and how much those payments should be. Learn how child support is calculated in Missouri, including when support amounts may depart from the guidelines.

How does alimony work in Missouri?

Alimony in Missouri (known as "maintenance") isn't a sure thing in a divorce. Before judges will consider whether to award alimony, spouses seeking support must prove to the court that they:

  • lack sufficient property, including marital property, to provide for reasonable needs, and
  • are unable to be financially independent through appropriate employment, or they have custody of a child whose needs make it impossible or unrealistic to work outside of the home.

If that standard is met, then the court will consider additional factors in determining the amount and duration of alimony. These factors include

  • the length of the marriage
  • the standard of living established during the marriage, and
  • the age and physical and emotional condition of the spouse requesting alimony.

Temporary alimony is available while the divorce is in progress, if the judge believes it's warranted.

Can we agree to an out-of-court settlement in our Missouri divorce?

Yes, you may agree with your spouse about how to handle the issues in your divorce at any point during the process, from before you've filed the divorce papers right up to just before a trial. In fact, courts strongly encourage settlements.

If you've worked out all your issues, you'll normally sign and submit a written divorce settlement agreement, and the court will consider your case to be uncontested. In that scenario, you might be able to get your divorce decree without going to court. Check with your local court clerk to see whether the judge handling your case will dispense with a formal final hearing.

What happens if we can't agree on a divorce settlement?

If you aren't able to agree with your spouse about one or more of the legal issues involved in ending your marriage, you'll need to go to trial to have a judge resolve the disputes for you. Anytime you need a trial, your divorce will take longer and cost more. So if at all possible, it's in your best interest to do everything you can to come to a settlement agreement that's fair to both you and your spouse.

When can I get an annulment in Missouri?

If you want to get an annulment, you'll need to convince a judge that you meet one of the narrow grounds for voiding a marriage. (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 451.020 and 451.030 (2022).)

Learn more about annulment in Missouri, including the allowable reasons, the legal process, and the effects of annulling a marriage.

Where can I get more information and help with my Missouri divorce?

You can find answers to other divorce-related questions in our section on divorce in Missouri.

Here are some other resources:

  • Court services. You can find divorce information and forms on the Missouri Courts Family Law webpage. If you plan to represent yourself in your divorce, the same page gives information on completing a Litigant Awareness Program.
  • Mediation. If you want the cost-and-time advantages of an uncontested divorce but are having trouble agreeing with your spouse about all of the issues, divorce mediation can help you find solutions and common ground. At the end of the process, the mediator typically will prepare a written divorce settlement agreement.
  • Online divorce. If you've reached a complete settlement but need more help with the uncontested divorce forms than you can get through the court's website, you might try an online divorce service that will provide you with the completed forms, based on your answers to a questionnaire.
  • Lawyers. Of course, there are some divorces that require a lawyer's help. If that's true in your case, here are some questions to ask before hiring a divorce attorney.