Missouri divorce laws apply to the key issues in legal separation, so parties must address:
- Property Division: Missouri uses the law of equitable distribution when dividing up the real estate, personal property, and debts that the parties acquired during the marriage. These items are distributed between the parties according to the interests of fairness, so there may not be an exact 50-50 split. Any property owned before the marriage, gifts, and inheritances belong to the individual spouse. Equitable distribution rules also apply when a court enters an order on property division for legal separation.
- Alimony: Either party may request spousal support when going through legal separation, and a court may award it as necessary to balance the financial disparities between the spouses. The judge will look to numerous factors to determine the type, amount, and duration.
- Issues Related to Minor Children: Parents who will remain married but do not live under the same roof must address the needs of their children. Child custody involves how parents make the important decisions on how to raise the child, including education, extracurricular activities, living arrangements, and much more. The non-residential parent will exercise visitation rights according to the parenting time schedule.
Both custody and visitation are determined according to the child’s best interests standard, a list of factors the judge reviews to ensure the child’s well-being, safety, and development. The Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations is used to assess child support. The guidelines apply the income shares method of calculating child support, so a court will look at all earnings of both parents.
Options for Resolving Legal Separation Issues in Missouri
The above description of property division, alimony, and child-related issues is how to separate maintenance works if a court must decide them. The parties are free to create their own arrangement, and Missouri law encourages you to work out an agreement in these areas. There are benefits to compromising on these topics, including faster time to resolve the case and reduced legal fees. Plus, you retain control over the terms of your legal separation, so you and your spouse can craft solutions that suit your unique needs. Handling separate maintenance issues by agreement may also enable you to resolve your case by reconciliation instead of divorce.
Mediation is another option for resolving these critical issues, and it also focuses on the spirit of the agreement. However, the session is overseen by a mediation professional, so there is more structure to your conversations toward compromise. Mediators are trained to facilitate productive discussions and help parties see eye-to-eye, often enabling them to overcome the hurdles that were preventing an agreement.
Your Missouri mediation lawyer will be at your side throughout the proceeding to help you understand the implications of the separate maintenance agreement before you sign. If you do not reach an agreement during mediation, you will go to court for a trial on remaining disputes.
Comparing Legal Separation to Divorce
Enforcement and Modification
One important advantage of going through legal separation is that you have access to powerful legal tools and remedies if you need to enforce a separate maintenance order. Whether the parties reached an agreement or the judge made a determination, the order has the effect of law. A violation of the court’s terms could constitute contempt, so the court has the authority to force compliance. The judge could garnish wages or attach liens to the property of the party who is in contempt of court for nonpayment of alimony or child support. The laws also allow a judge to issue penalties for wrongdoing, such as payment of the other party’s attorneys’ fees.
Because the judge’s order is legally binding, the parties cannot modify it without going through the proper process. If circumstances change, you may have options to alter spousal support, as well as child custody, visitation, or support. A substantial change of circumstances might justify modification where:
- The party receiving alimony has become self-supporting through work or other income;
- The person paying spousal or child support lost a job; or,
- The best interests of the child would be served by altering the parenting time and visitation schedule.
Though parental relocation will involve modifications to child custody and support, there is a separate process when one parent wants to move and take the child for 90 days or more.
Pros and Cons of Legal Separation in Missouri
Though this summary of separate maintenance in Missouri helps you understand the process and key points, weighing the pros and cons is also crucial. You can rely on your St. Louis legal separation attorney for personalized advice and counsel, but consider a few points:
- Spouses remain married when legally separated. The downside is that you cannot remarry, but it is easy to rejoin your relationship if you reconcile.
- Many parties take advantage of counseling during their period of separation, increasing the likelihood of getting back together. Separate maintenance may be the time each person needs to refocus on the relationship.
- The legal separation process protects your financial rights and interests in marital property, while you are separated and if you eventually dissolve the marriage.
- As a parent, knowing there is a binding, enforceable order on child custody, visitation, and support gives you peace of mind. If you separate without a formal structure, there could be harm to your parental rights.
Discuss Options with a Missouri Legal Separation Lawyer
This overview on how to get legally separated in Missouri is useful, but it is essential to first make sure separate maintenance is the right fit for your circumstances. There may be legal or financial reasons why an official divorce is wise, and consulting with an experienced attorney will help you make informed decisions about your future. To learn more about your options, please contact St. Louis Divorce & Mediation to set up a case review. You can also online to book a consultation with a Missouri legal separation lawyer.
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