Many people experience a range of emotions as they go through the legal separation process in Missouri. Though it is not the same as divorce, separating is a significant adjustment to your marital relationship, family, and finances. These feelings may motivate parties to engage in wrongful acts out of anger, frustration, or spite, but these are mistakes they could regret.
You might be surprised to learn that misconduct in legal proceedings can lead to serious penalties. Plus, wrongdoing can cause delays with separation, which is unfortunate when all you want is a smooth process.
The concept of legal separation may be uncharted territory for you, so you might not always realize what constitutes misconduct. The things you used to do as a matter of routine during your marriage could be limited while you are separated. To avoid disputes and conflict, it is wise to work with a Missouri legal separation attorney who can advise you on specific issues with misconduct. You can also check out a summary of what not to do when you are legally separated from your spouse.
Legal Separation Basics in Missouri
Under the Missouri statute on legal separation, a spouse can file a petition to separate when the marriage is not irretrievably broken and there is a possibility of reconciliation. Through the process, the parties address many of the same issues they would in a divorce case. The key with legal separation is that the parties do remain married, though they can convert their case to a divorce after a 90-day waiting period.
The primary issues you will face when separating are:
- Property Division: Missouri is an equitable distribution state, so all assets and debts of the couple are classified as marital or separate. All marital property is divided fairly between the parties, which may not always mean 50-50.
- Alimony: A lower-earning spouse may be entitled to spousal support to balance the financial disparities between the parties.
- Minor Children: Child custody and visitation will be an issue for parents, and these matters are determined in accordance with the child’s best interests. Child support works according to statutory guidelines.
Conduct to Avoid During Separation in Missouri
In general, the acts that could cause problems with legal separation include anything that interferes with the three points above.
- Sell Assets: When a judge enters a separation order, parties will be legally restrained from selling marital property. This obligation is restricted to your more valuable assets, such as your home, vacation house, and investment property. You and your spouse can agree to sell, but this should be put in writing.
- Make Big Ticket Purchases: The income each party earns during separation is considered a marital asset and part of the marital estate. Therefore, even when using the money you earned and put in your own account, you should not buy any big-ticket items. Real estate, vehicles, jewelry, and luxury goods are examples.
- Incur Debt: Spouses should avoid opening a new credit card account, line of credit, personal loan, or other debt while separated. These financial obligations are also part of the marital estate, so they are imputed to both parties. You should also not encumber any assets you own, such as taking a second mortgage or loan against the value of the marital home.
- Influence Children: Parents should support a healthy relationship between the child and other parents, which means not badmouthing your ex. Do not bring children into your disputes or try to get them to side with you.
Special Note About Dating
During separation in Missouri, it is important to keep in mind that you are still married. In reality, both spouses may have romantic relationships, but dating others is technically adultery. This is one of the grounds for divorce if either party wanted to convert the legal separation into a full dissolution of marriage.
However, adultery may also be an issue for property division and alimony. When one spouse spends a significant amount of money on a romantic partner, those are funds that belong to both parties. The judge could decrease what a party receives in property division to account for this depletion of the marital estate. Plus, a court is permitted to consider the conduct of the parties during the marriage when making decisions on spousal support. A judge may base the award of alimony on this type of misconduct.
Trust Our Missouri Legal Separation Lawyers to Advise You
This information on what not to do during separation should convince you to steer clear of any misconduct, which only slows the process down and puts you at risk of penalties. In addition, this overview is also helpful if you suspect wrongdoing by your spouse since you have remedies if your rights are affected. To learn more about what happens through the legal separation process, please contact St. Louis Divorce & Mediation. You can book a consultation online to meet with a skilled legal separation attorney.
Related Content: What Does It Mean to Be Legally Separated in Missouri?