Divorce is the process of permanently, conclusively ending a marriage, and it is this sense of finality that leads some people to believe it is too harsh a remedy for their situation. Fortunately, there is a process that may be a good fit if you are not quite ready to take the leap with legal separation.
In Missouri, you can obtain a legal separation order from the court that covers some of the topics you would address in divorce. Many spouses split informally, without any legal process or order in place. However, you gain certain protections and take advantage of other benefits when spouses are officially separated according to the criteria in the statute.
Plus, while legal separation is allowed and governed by law, it is even encouraged. The process enables spouses to determine if their marital relationship can be salvaged. If you decide that the marriage is over, there is a roadmap to divorce provided by the legal separation order. Because it could ultimately affect the divorce process, it is wise to retain a Missouri legal separation lawyer right away. You can also learn some basics by reviewing the following summary.
Overview of Legal Separation in Missouri
Legal separation is a process by which parties resolve divorce issues, but stop short of officially ending the marital relationship. The Missouri statute on legal separation provides the details, giving the judge permission to award separation if certain requirements are met:
- One of the parties has lived in Missouri or been stationed in the state as a member of the military for at least 90 days prior to filing for divorce.
- At least 30 days have passed since starting the separation process and the date of entering the separation order.
- There is a possibility that the parties will reconcile and re-establish the marital relationship, in which case the marriage is not irretrievably broken.
- The judge has reviewed and provided for property division, alimony, and child custody and support.
What Legal Separation Covers in Missouri
The statute lists the items that the court must consider when entering an order for separation, and the judge will apply Missouri divorce laws to make a decision. Though every case is different, many parties will need to address:
- Property Division: Missouri employs the law of equitable distribution, in which marital assets are divided between the parties according to the interests of fairness. The first step is to classify items, with all assets acquired after the wedding being part of the marital estate. The second step is splitting them equitably.
- Alimony: A party may seek spousal support, and a judge may award it where appropriate to bridge the financial gap. There are several statutory factors for determining the amount and duration of alimony.
- Issues Related to Minor Children: A court must review the child’s best interests when deciding child custody and visitation, a set of factors that relate to the child’s health, safety, and well-being. Child support is determined by statutory guidelines.
Why a Legal Separation Order is Critical
Many couples simply move on from each other without any formal structure in place, but getting a legal separation order from a court is advisable. Though your marriage is not ending, you can still restrain each other from selling off properties or disposing of assets. It is also possible to prevent a party from incurring joint debts in the names of the spouses. Plus, if you do decide that divorce is a wise choice for your circumstances, the divorce order serves as a framework for the final decree.
Getting a separation order should be a priority, but you should also be aware of your options for working through the process. It is possible to negotiate a legal separation agreement, which means a court does not decide the key issues. The parties have control over the arrangement, enabling you to be flexible and creative with solutions that work for you.
Process for Legal Separation in Missouri
To obtain a formal legal separation, it will be necessary to go to court. Even if you work out an agreement, the details need to be approved by the judge. When there are disputes, you will be in a courtroom for a contested hearing. Your St. Louis legal separation lawyer will help you navigate the process, in which you file a petition and state your case for separation. You will either enter your agreement as an order or set the stage for litigation on separation conflicts.
Discuss Options with a St. Louis Legal Separation Attorney
Legal separation is not an end to your marriage, but the court’s order still has important implications for your rights and interests if you do decide to divorce. If you are considering a divorce, please contact St. Louis Divorce & Mediation today or book a consultation online. After reviewing your circumstances, an experienced lawyer can explain how the laws apply and get started with a legal strategy.
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