Divorce and Separation are among the most traumatic events that an individual can experience. Not only is there emotional loss and pain, but your finances and your future relationship with your children are at stake.
If you are facing the potential Dissolution of your marriage, it is important to obtain good legal advice and counsel at the earliest opportunity. We have over twenty-five years of experience handling Divorce, Legal Separation, Child Support, Modifications and Paternity Actions. We are ready to represent you in St. Louis County, St. Charles County, St. Louis City, Jefferson County, and Franklin County, Missouri. Call us for a free telephone consultation at (314) 725-1880 or submit your contact information on-line using our secure “Contact Us” page from the menu above.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is Dissolution of Marriage?
A. What is commonly known as “Divorce” is properly termed a Dissolution of Marriage under Missouri Laws.
Q. What are the grounds for Dissolution of Marriage (divorce) in Missouri?
A. Missouri provides for limited “no fault” dissolution of marriage, allowing the petitioner to allege merely “irreconcilable differences” as grounds for dissolution of the marriage. The petitioner is typically not required to plead “fault” unless the other party denies the allegation of irreconcilable differences.
Q. What is a Legal Separation?
A. A proceeding for Legal Separation is nearly identical to one for Dissolution of Marriage with the exception that at least one of the parties asserts that the marriage is not irretrievably broken and that there is a likelihood of reconciliation by the parties. A Judgment of Legal Separation results in relief nearly identical to a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage with the notable distinction that the parties remain “married.”
Q. How long do I have to reside in the State of Missouri before I can file for Dissolution of Marriage?
A. Ninety days.
Q. Is there a waiting period to get a dissolution?
A. Yes. No Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage may be granted until at least thirty (30) days have elapsed since the date of filing of the petition. This is generally of little consequence since the spouse has thirty (30) days to respond after being served with the petition.
Q. We have young children. Does the mother always get custody?
A. No. Missouri law allows no preference for custody of children based upon gender.
Q My spouse has committed adultery. Does that mean I get everything?
A. No. In Missouri, a court may consider the misconduct of a party which resulted in or contributed to the breakdown of the marriage and may in appropriate cases give the “innocent spouse” a greater share of the marital property. However, this does not mean that the “guilty” spouse will receive nothing. Misconduct is only one of several issues the court will address when dividing property.
Q. My spouse has acquired property in his or her separate name during the marriage. I am entitled to any part of it?
A. Yes. Missouri law provides that property obtained during the marriage is marital property, (and subject to division), unless it is acquired by gift, devise (inheritance), or excluded by written agreement of the parties.
Q. How is child support determined?
A. Child support is determined based upon the relative income of each parent and the number of children. The “presumed child support” amount is calculated using a document called a “Form 14.” A child support obligation will also include each parents’ share of costs for medical insurance, day care, and other expenses necessary for the care and maintenance of the child. A custody adjustment is factored in for the time the children are in the actual custody of the non-custodial parent. A court may order child support in an amount that is higher or lower than the presumed amount, if there are compelling reasons why it would be unjust or unreasonable to use the presumed support amount.
Q. Can I recover my attorney’s fees and costs from my spouse?
A. Yes. Attorney’s fees and costs can be requested from the other party, and may be granted under limited circumstances. The court is authorized to award attorney’s fees and costs to the prevailing party in a dissolution action. The award of attorney’s fees and costs are completely at the discretion of the Judge and typically are based upon the relative income and financial status of the parties. It should be noted that each spouse will be responsible for his or her own attorney’s fees and costs, if the Judge chooses not to order them paid by the other spouse.
Q. My spouse and I agree on everything. Do we have to go to trial and have a Judge decide the issues?
A. No. Most Courts encourage agreements between the parties and uncontested proceedings.
Q. My spouse and I agree on everything. Do we each have to get a lawyer?
A. No. As long as both parties are in complete agreement regarding all issues, one attorney can handle the case. Keep in mind that the attorney can only represent one party, and cannot represent both spouses without a conflict of interest. The fact that one attorney prepares all the necessary documents should not pose a problem if both parties are in agreement. If, however, the unrepresented party is at all uncertain about his or her rights, he or she should consult separate legal counsel.
Q. I am ready to file. How do I proceed.
A. Make an appointment with the lawyer. Find out what the lawyer’s fees and retainer are up front. At your first meeting, be prepared to provide the attorney with biographical information for you and your spouse, including: name, address, social security number, date and place of birth, employment and income, maiden name of wife, as well as the date and place of your marriage, date of separation, names and dates of birth for each child of the marriage. A detailed listing of all property, (including real estate, automobiles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.) owned by you and your spouse, (whether singly or jointly), will be helpful for the attorney. Be prepared to pay the initial retainer at the time of the first meeting. Most attorneys will require that you sign a contract for legal services to be provided.
Q. What is a retainer?
A. A retainer is a sum of money deposited with the attorney and required to secure the attorney’s services. Most attorneys bill at an hourly rate. The retainer is typically a deposit reflecting a certain number of hours of the attorney’s time prepaid. The client is billed based upon the attorney’s actual time expended for any activity related to the client’s case, including, but not limited to telephone calls, meetings, court appearances, legal research, negotiation, and any other activity related to the client’s case. In the event that the fees for actual time expended exceed the retainer deposit, the client will be billed for additional time, and an additional retainer may be required to secure future services.
Q. What should I expect after I have hired an attorney?
A. Within a short period of time, the attorney will typically prepare the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and Statements of Income and Expenses and Property for your signature. If there are children, a Parenting Plan (outlining custody and visitation) must also be prepared for filing with the petition. You will need to execute these documents and pay court costs prior to the filing of your case.
Q. What happens after the Petition is filed?
A. Your spouse will be served by the sheriff or a process server with copies of the documents you signed at the lawyer’s office. Your spouse will have thirty (30) days from the date of service in which to file a written response with the court and your lawyer. If your spouse does not file a response, a judgment by default may be taken against him or her after a hearing. If your spouse retains an attorney and files a response the matter will eventually be heard by a Judge, unless a settlement is reached which does not require a court appearance.
Q. We have minor children. Do I need to attend a parenting class?
A. Yes. You will need to complete a parenting class or parent education class before your case can be heard. Each county has slightly varying requirements.
Q. How long will it be before my case is complete?
A. Every case is different, and it is impossible to determine exactly how long a case will take until conclusion. Typically, cases are concluded within three months to one year from the date of filing. Court policy provides that all cases must be concluded within one year, unless the court permits or determines that a longer period is necessary. It is exceedingly rare for a case to last for more than a year due to Missouri Supreme Court administrative rules and guidelines. Obviously, any case which is settled can be quickly concluded.
Q. I am in the midst of a divorce and my spouse has threatened to terminate my health and dental insurance. Is this permissible?
A. No. Section 452.317 of the Missouri Revised Statutes provides that while the case is pending, no party may terminate health, dental, or vision insurance for the other party or any minor child of the marriage.
DISCLAIMER: THE PRECEDING INFORMATION WAS OF A GENERAL NATURE AND NOT MEANT TO CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR TO BE USED IN, OR APPLIED TO, ANY INDIVIDUAL SITUATION. THIS GENERAL INFORMATION IS APPLICABLE TO THE STATE OF MISSOURI AND MAY NOT BE VALID UNDER THE LAWS OF OTHER STATES. IF THE READER HAS SPECIFIC LEGAL QUESTIONS, HE OR SHE SHOULD CONTACT AN ATTORNEY.