Divorce in Missouri - Your Complete Starter Guide
The prospect and process of divorce is almost always painful and overwhelming, but knowing what to expect as you make your way through the system can help. Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, so there is no need to provide grounds for divorce when filing. Here’s a basic outline of the Missouri divorce procedure.
Missouri Divorce Requirements
Missouri’s requirements for divorce are simple and straightforward. To receive a divorce in Missouri, at least one of the parties must have been a resident of the state for at least 90 days. There is no need to provide grounds for divorce however extenuating circumstances such as infidelity, abuse, or addiction are taken into consideration.
There is a 12 month waiting period before filing for divorce if both parties can agree to the divorce. During this time, the parties must live separate and apart. The waiting period is extended to 24 months if either party does not wish to divorce. During this two-year timespan, the parties must live separate and apart.
In cases of spousal abandonment, the waiting period is shortened to 6 months. If you were abandoned by your spouse for six continuous months or longer, you may file for divorce in Missouri.
While defenses to divorce filings have been abolished, Missouri courts still have the option of granting legal separations rather than divorces in cases where the court believes that the marriage has a chance of working.
Basic Divorce Proceedings in Missouri
When filing for divorce in Missouri, most people opt to work with an attorney. In the event that you cannot afford an attorney, it’s possible to find basic divorce forms online at the State of Missouri website. You should also check with your local circuit court to find out whether you need additional forms.
Whether you hire a divorce attorney or not, here’s what to expect as you work your way through Missouri divorce proceedings.
One Spouse Files a Petition: As in most states, Missouri divorce petitions are legal documents that must be filed at the local courthouse in the county where either the petitioner and/or the respondent lives. The petition includes basic information including your name and your spouse’s name, whether you’ll need child custody hearings, whether property will need to be divided, and what your desired outcome is.
After filling out the divorce petition, the petitioner must visit a notary public and verify that all information contained in the petition is factual.
Additional Forms May Be Required: Every divorce is different. In most cases though, the court will need additional information to proceed. Some common Missouri divorce forms include the Statement of Property and Debt as well as the Income and Expense Statement.
Respondent is Notified: There are a few different ways to notify the respondent of divorce filing in Missouri. These include:
Special process server
Service by publication
Accepting the petition in person and signing a form known as a waiver of service
After being served with divorce papers, Missouri respondents have 30 days to file their own written response, which is called an “answer.” The answer is an acknowledgement of receipt as well as an opportunity to agree or disagree with the filing. Agreement or disagreement determines whether the divorce is contested or uncontested.
Missouri Uncontested Divorce
In an uncontested divorce, the respondent agrees with everything the petitioner has stated and requested in the petition. There are no disagreements over common issues including the division of debt, child custody, and the division of assets. The court is able to provide a ruling, which becomes final thirty days later unless there is an appeal. As you might imagine, uncontested divorces typically proceed far faster than those in which unresolved issues exist.
Missouri Contested Divorce
Most Missouri divorces are contested, as parties often have difficulty coming to terms on child support and custody as well as the division of property and/or debt. It’s best to obtain legal counsel if you have a contested divorce as an attorney will represent your best interests and try to ensure that you receive everything that you are entitled to.
Even if you cannot afford an attorney, you will have a divorce hearing. During a contested divorce hearing, each party presents documented evidence of all income and expenses as well as any extenuating circumstances and any other documentation, evidence, or testimony to support the arguments being made. After all evidence has been presented, the judge will provide a ruling. The ruling is usually presented verbally, and the divorce becomes final 30 days later so long as there is no appeal.
Whether your divorce is contested or not, the final judgment will stand once any appeals have been heard and decided upon. When the court makes its order of distribution of marital property, there is no second chance for modification.
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Grounds for Divorce in Missouri
Even though Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, petitioners may provide additional grounds for divorce. These include:
Irretrievable breakdown of the relationship (i.e., no fault)
The respondent’s behavior is such that the petitioner cannot reasonably continue living with the respondent
The respondent has committed adultery and the situation cannot be resolved
The respondent has abandoned the petitioner or at least six continuous months before filing for divorce
The parties have lived separate and apart by mutual consent for at least 12 continuous months prior to filing for divorce
The parties have lived separate and apart for at least 24 continuous months prior to filing the divorce (no mutual consent required)
What If I Cannot Afford Court Costs?
Missouri divorce laws allow for In Forma Pauperis Applications. Each judicial circuit court has its own rules, however all offer the opportunity to file a “Motion and Affidavit in Support of Request to Proceed as a Poor Person.” This form provides the court with information on income and expenses, as well as total debts and assets. It allows the judge to make a well-informed decision about whether to waive court costs.