When you are seeking a divorce in Missouri it is important to have a clear understanding of the laws related to divorce. Understanding divorce laws can help you avoid making mistakes and can help you get an idea of what to expect in the divorce process.
Important Divorce Laws In Missouri
- Residency requirement – Missouri requires that you or your spouse reside in the state for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce. The state also requires that you file your petition in the county where either you or your spouse resides.
- Grounds for divorce – Missouri allows you to use either at-fault or no-fault grounds for a divorce. This means you can divorce due to irreconcilable differences, because the marriage is irretrievably broken, or due to misconduct on the part of your spouse. Misconduct on the part of your spouse can include things like adultery or excessive cruelty. Missouri also allows a marriage to end if the two parties have lived apart for at least two years before they file for divorce.
- Legal separation – Missouri does recognize legal separation. This means you can legally separate from your spouse without actually ending the marriage. This is not a popular option and it requires the signing of a separation agreement that is almost identical to a settlement agreement like one would sign in a divorce. Essentially, you must define all aspects of property division, child support and spousal support – just as you would in a divorce. Most couples just choose to opt for an uncontested divorce, as the amount of work is essentially the same for either separation or divorce.
- Mediation – The state may require mediation between you and your spouse during the divorce process, especially if you have children. The intent is to bring both parties to an understanding and resolve any disputes, thus allowing the divorce to move forward in an uncontested way. Mediation is a popular option because it often saves time, money and emotional upset. The closer a couple can get to an uncontested divorce, the better it is for everyone involved.
- Property division – Missouri practices equitable distribution, which means the court will try to distribute property equally when called upon to do so. This can be avoided by coming to a settlement agreement with your spouse. However, if the court is left to decide who gets what, it will weight factors like the financial resources of each spouse, earning power, length of marriage, contribution of each party during the marriage, who will be the custodial parent and many other factors. This is why the division of property is referred to as equitable instead of equal. One spouse may need more of the property acquired in the marriage than the other.
- Spousal support – Also known as alimony, spousal support may be awarded to a spouse if the court decides it is appropriate. There are number of considerations that go into this decision, including the length of the marriage, the earning power of each spouse, the assets of each spouse, the time and cost associated with retraining a spouse to enter the workforce, the standard of living established during the marriage, the behavior and conduct of each party during the marriage and the physical health of each spouse. Spousal support may be awarded for a limited time, a lifetime or based on certain limitations that can change over time. If the spouse receiving support remarries it will end the support from the previous spouse.
- Name change – If the spouse desires to, he or she can petition the court to change his or her name. If the court decides that the name change is reasonable and will not damage any other person, it can grant the name change during the divorce proceedings.
- Child custody – Ideally the parents will be able to come to a reasonable arrangement concerning the custody of the child. However, if the court is left to decide the matter it will look at a range of factors – all intended to achieve the maximum benefit for the child. It will consider the wishes of both parents, the relationship the child has with each parent, the health- both mental and physical – of everyone involved, the adjustments the child will have to make and the child's wishes concerning who should have custody. Missouri does not weight its child custody decisions based on the financial status of the parent.
- Child support – Missouri uses the income shares model when determining how child support is arranged. This means that the state bases the support on the combined income of both parents. The court uses a formula to determine the appropriate amount for support, along with consideration of a variety of factors relevant to the amount of child support awarded.