Residency Requirements and Grounds for Divorce
Either you or your spouse must be a Missouri resident for 90 days to file for divorce, also called a "dissolution." You can meet the residency requirement if you're in the military and stationed in Missouri.
Either spouse can get a divorce simply by stating in divorce papers that the marriage is "irretrievably broken." This means there's no reasonable chance to continue the marriage. If you both agree on the divorce, you can file a "joint petition," which is your written agreement to end your marriage.
If you and your spouse don't agree on the divorce, one spouse must prove the marriage is irretrievably broken by showing the court one of these grounds:
- Adultery by the other spouse
- Behavior that makes it unreasonable to continue to live with the other spouse
- Abandonment by your spouse for six months
- Voluntary separation for at least 12 months
- Separation for at least 24 months
Your divorce case begins when you file a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage" with the Circuit Court. Your spouse is served with the divorce papers and has time to respond. If you agree on issues of property and debt division, and child custody and support, the divorce can be finalized without a trial. If you don't agree, the court schedules a hearing, and may suggest you seek counseling.
Once your case if filed, either party can request temporary assistance from the court in the form of temporary custody and child support orders, and orders to determine who pays community debts on a temporary basis.
Dividing the Property
In Missouri, all assets and debts acquired before and after your marriage -called "marital property" - will be divided "equitably" or in a fair way when you divorce.
But not all property is considered "marital property." For example, assets you acquired before you married may be considered "non-marital property," as are assets you acquired subsequent to the marriage by gift, in exchange for non-marital property, or after legal separation. Also excluded is property covered by a valid written agreement between you and your spouse.
In deciding how to divide the property owned by a divorcing couple, judges will consider:
- The economic circumstances of each spouse, and whether the custodial parent should keep or live in the family home
- The contribution of each spouse in acquiring marital property, including the value of homemaking
- The value of the nonmarital property of each spouse
- Marital conduct
- Child custody arrangements
Be prepared with information on your property, including when you purchased it, an estimate of value, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers and so forth. You'll be ready to meet with a Missouri divorce lawyer and it can save you a lot of time and money.
A court can order alimony, called "maintenance" in Missouri, but only if the court finds that the spouse seeking maintenance:
- Lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her reasonable needs
- Can't provide self-support through suitable employment
- Has custody of a child whose condition or circumstances make it inappropriate to work outside the home
In deciding the amount of maintenance to award, the court looks factors such as:
- The financial resources of the recipient
- The time needed for the recipient to gain sufficient education or training to allow for finding suitable employment
- The comparative earning capacity of each spouse
- Standard of living during the marriage
- The obligations and assets of each spouse
- Marriage length
- The age and the physical and emotional condition of the recipient
- The ability of the other spouse to meet his or her needs while meeting those of the recipient
- Marital conduct
A court can order temporary support while the divorce is pending. Most maintenance is ordered for a set length of time. The order should state whether it's modifiable. If it is, the court can grant modification based on a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.
Child Custody and Visitation
The court makes child custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child. In deciding how much time each parent should spend with the child, the court considers many factors, including:
- The wishes of the parents and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties
- The child's need to have a meaningful relationship with both parents, and the parents' abilities and willingness to make that possible
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent
- The child's adjustment to home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse
- The intention of either parent to relocate
- The wishes of a child
- Whether the child is home-schooled
Custody decisions aren't based on a parent's age, sex of parent or child, or financial status. However, any act of domestic violence against a child is a bar to custody in Missouri.
After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may bring the issue back before the court. The judge may decide to modify the visitation order, order makeup visitation for the time missed and order counseling or mediation.
In Missouri, child support is based on the combined income of the parents, the needs of the child, and the costs of child care and health insurance. Factors in deciding child support include:
- The financial needs and resources of the child and the parents
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed but for the divorce
- The physical and emotional condition of the child, and his educational needs
- The specifics of the custody arrangement, including time spent with each parent and costs connected to visitation
- The reasonable work-related child care expenses of each parent
A child support order can be modified only if there has been a "substantial and continuing change in circumstances," such as a big increase or decrease in either parent's income.
Questions for Your Attorney