Filing for divorce is never a pleasant experience for anyone involved, regardless of how unhealthy or amicable the relationship. If kids are involved, it only makes the situation trickier.
If you are planning on severing your marital ties, you will need to know about what your rights are and the process to be followed. Working with an experienced St. Louis divorce mediation attorney can prove to be immensely helpful.
Whether it is filing for divorce, dividing the property, or determining alimony, child support, or child custody, each factor will need to be handled carefully.
A qualified and seasoned attorney will be able to guide you through the legal maze and help make the process as smooth as possible.
Things to Know about a St. Louis Divorce
In the state of Missouri, divorce is known as the “dissolution of marriage.” The spouse who files for divorce is called the “petitioner” while the spouse who receives the papers is the “respondent.”
Before filing for divorce, at least one spouse must have been a resident of the state for at least 90 days before filing for the divorce. So if neither you nor your spouse has lived here for the said amount of time, you’ll have to wait before filing.
You can file for divorce with or without an attorney. In Missouri divorce cases, all spouses representing themselves are required to complete the Litigant Awareness Program with the help of written material or online video sessions. This program helps the individual understand how they can protect their rights during the divorce.
Upon the completion of the program, the spouse has to fill out a certificate of completion form and file it in the circuit court.
Important Steps Before You Ever File For Divorce
Filing for divorce can be a life-altering decision. Before you start the divorce process in St. Louis, there are several important steps you should consider taking. For starters, it is helpful to make an accounting of the things you own prior to seeking a divorce. This information will be necessary during the process, and taking stock of your assets early on could simplify the process. Likewise, it is important to note your outstanding debts as well.
It is important to establish your own credit prior to divorce. For some people who have had credit cards for years, this might not be an issue. Others could have gone through their entire marriage without establishing any credit in their own name. Setting up a credit card that is not tied to your spouse is the fastest way to build your credit moving forward.
Above all, it is important to have people by your side before you begin the divorce process. In addition to family and trusted friends, it is also important that you seek out the guidance of an experienced divorce attorney.
The Right Time to Speak to a Divorce Attorney
For many people, a divorce is a measure of last resort that is put off until every other option is tried. While this is understandable, there is a time where it becomes prudent to speak with an attorney. This time could come sooner than you think.
For starters, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to how to address a potential divorce. Talking to an attorney early in the process can be helpful in that it gives a spouse a full understanding of all of their legal options. Remember: talking to a divorce attorney does not require you to begin the process right away. However, discussing your options early on in the process could help you understand what to expect should you decide it is time to dissolve your marriage.
For example, a spouse might not realize that there are alternatives to the costly, drawn-out divorce litigation. For some people, separation might be the right first step. For others, it could involve the use of mediation to avoid an ugly legal battle that could drag on for years at a time.
There are also risks associated with taking any informal steps towards a divorce prior to talking to an attorney. Working out informal divorce issues with a spouse could have unintentional effects on formal divorce proceedings. It could set a status quo that works against the spouse once the court becomes in volved. It is important to seek out legal counsel to avoid any of these unexpected consequences.
Grounds for Divorce
Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, which means that a divorce can be granted once the courts determine that the marriage is irreparably broken and there is no possibility of preserving it.
However, if one spouse states that the marriage is retrievable, the court asks the petitioning spouse for proof of grounds of divorce. As experienced St. Louis divorce mediation attorneys, we know that common grounds include:
- The respondent spouse committed adultery
- The respondent’s behavior made it intolerable for the petitioner to continue living with them
- The respondent abandoned the petitioner for at least six months
- The couple has been living separately for at least 12 months by mutual agreement
- The couple has been living separately for at least two years
How to Get the Divorce Process Started
The divorce process in St. Louis, Missouri starts with legal paperwork that clearly states the request for the divorce, i.e. the Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage form. If the divorcing couple has children, their names should be included in the petition as well, so the court is able to make informed decisions on matters like child custody and child support.
The couple then needs to fill out the divorce forms, which can be found on the Missouri Courts website. These forms ask for considerable information, which you can fill out online. You can then print the completed forms and file them in court.
When filing the papers in court, the petitioner has to either pay a filing fee or request a waiver. In Missouri, there are 46 circuit courts and each one covers several counties. You need to file your papers in the circuit court located in the county where you (or your spouse) reside.
Serving Notice of Divorce Proceedings
It is not enough to file your divorce petition. The court will not take up the divorce case until the other spouse has been formally served with the divorce papers. Thanks to the due process rights in the U.S. Constitution, your spouse is entitled to formal notice of the divorce proceedings before the case can move forward.
Service of process involves providing your spouse with a copy of the divorce petition as well as the date of the initial court hearing. It is not enough to hand them a copy yourself, as only certain individuals may serve process according to state law. The two primary options you have include:
- Service by sheriff’s deputies. One of the services the St. Louis City Sheriff provides is service of process for legal proceedings, including divorce papers.
- Private process servers. You also have the option of hiring a private individual to serve your spouse divorce papers.
There is also the option for serving your spouse by publication. If you cannot find them or they are actively avoiding service, you might be able to secure service through publication. This is done by publishing a notice of the divorce proceedings in a local paper and submitting a form to the court seeking the right to serve via publication. Service by publication is a last resort, and the court will only agree to it if you can show you made a diligent effort to seek out and serve your spouse.
Division of Property and Assets
In a Missouri divorce, property and assets are not split in a 50-50 ration, but through equitable distribution. Each spouse receives their share fairly or what belongs to them respectively. Hence, neither spouse will receive an equal share.
The courts consider factors such as both spouses’ individual income, the total value of the property and assets, and the grounds for divorce. If children are involved, then considerations for their living situations are also factored in.
Alimony is called maintenance in Missouri. It may be awarded only if the spouse seeking it lacks sufficient belongings for their own needs, or if they are unable to/should not seek employment due to child custody responsibilities.
If the spouses cannot mutually decide on the maintenance, the court will determine the duration and amount of maintenance. The judge will consider the following factors to make this decision:
- The financial situation of the party seeking maintenance
- The ability of the seeking party to meet their needs independently
- The time necessary for the seeking party to acquire sufficient education/training to find suitable employment
- Each party’s earnings
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- Each party’s debts and assets
- The age, physical fitness, and emotional condition of the party seeking maintenance
- The behavior of the parties during the marriage
- The duration of the marriage
- The ability of the paying party to meet their own needs while paying maintenance
If and your spouse has minor children, you may have to file a parenting plan, either jointly or separately with the court. This should be done within 30 days after the respondent is served with the petition or filed an appearance with the court.
The parenting plan should include (among other things):
- A schedule specifying the time the child will spend with each parent
- Decision-making rights and responsibilities and how they will be shared
- Distribution of the expenses of the child
- Child Custody
If you and your spouse can reach the custody agreement based on the best interest of your child, it will be accepted by the court. If, however, you cannot reach an agreement, the court will make a decision considering the following factors:
- The desire for custody of the parents and their proposed parenting plan
- The willingness of the custodian parent to permit a meaningful connection with the other parent
- Each parent’s ability to fulfill their parental duties
- The child’s adjustment to home, school, and the community at large
- The mental and physical health of all the people involved
- If either party plans to relocate the main residence of the child
- The relationship of the child with the parents
- The preference of the child
- Child Support
When determining child support in a Missouri divorce case, the following factors come into play:
- The monetary requirements of the child
- The financial requirements and income of the parents
- The child’s educational expenses
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not ended
- The physical and emotional health of the child
- The child-care expenses of each parent
- The custody arrangements
Finalizing the Divorce
When all issues are settled, the court can make it final by issuing a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage, a legal document that states the couple has divorced.
In St. Louis, the court can take a minimum of 30 days (from the date of filing) to grant a divorce. This applies to cases where children are not involved, or the spouses share very little property, and both mutually agreed to the terms of the divorce.
The divorce process in St. Louis involves more than just two people agreeing to end their marriage and live apart from each other. The fact is that most cases involve divorce attorneys and even courtroom battles. That’s because divorces are often complex, and several issues need to be handled with utmost care to ensure that the best possible outcomes are achieved. If you are considering filing for divorce or have been served with papers, you should act quickly to understand your options. An experienced St. Louis divorce mediation attorney can be your strongest ally in this time of need. Do not hesitate to contact a lawyer to know about your rights and get the most effective representation.
Plan & Learn More About Divorcing with St. Louis Divorce Mediation Attorney