In order to file for a divorce in the state of Missouri at least one of spouses involved in the dissolution case must have been a resident of Missouri for 90 days before the filing of dissolution petition.
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In order to begin the dissolution of a marriage in the state of Missouri, one of the spouses must file an initial plea, called the Petition, outlining the parties involved and the marital situation. The Petition must be filed in the family court (or circuit court) of the county where the petitioner resides, or where the petitioner’s spouse resides. The Petition must be signed by the petitioner and by a notary public. The petitioner must also pay a filing fee and request that the court issue a summons in order to inform their spouse of the divorce. If the couple has children, the petitioner must also file a parenting plan and a family court information sheet.
After the petition is filed, the petitioner must serve the summons and the petition to their spouse. Service can be done by a professional processing server or the sheriff. The spouse being served must then file a reply or “answer” that either admits or denies the things that were stated in the petition. This answer must be signed by the defending spouse and by a notary public.
If the petitioner’s spouse (i.e., the defendant) does not answer the service, they are in default. The family court (or circuit court, depending on the county) could easily enter into a default judgment. In default judgments, the court may not issue an order for the defendant to pay any money to the petitioner. The courts will also set aside default dissolution if the defendant can explain that he or she was “not at fault’ in failing to answer the petition. If the spouse that defaults comes back later and asks that the default judgment be removed, the court is likely to do so.
If the defendant cannot be found, the petitioner some options. He or she can serve the petition publicly; however, this only allows for a divorce, and settlement on issues of finance cannot be handled. The petitioner can also hire a private investigator (costing at least $150 dollars) to physically find the missing spouse, or he or she can run a records check to locate their general whereabouts.
What happens after the petition is filed and served depends greatly on which county in which the case is being handled, but generally the spouses enter the discovery period. During this time temporary orders are placed by the court, usually stating that the status quo must be kept while the case is pending. While the status quo is being kept, discovery paperwork is exchanged between the attorneys of both parties. These documents report each spouses’ marital and non marital income, property and debts. Thirty (30) days after the answer is filed, the couple may receive a court date, but procedures may differ in large counties.
If there are children involved, the discovery period is also the time when the couple must attend mediation, which is a time meant to reflect upon the process and what is best for their children; it is also a time to hopefully create more amicable bonds to help settle the case outside of court.
After the two sides have exchanged the paperwork for discovery, their attorneys speak to one another and decide if there is a possibility for settlement. If there is, one of the attorneys will then draft a Separation Agreement and Property Settlement and send it to the other for review.
If there is no agreement, a divorce hearing is held and the judge will decide the placement of the literal and proverbial marital property in a hearing.
A note about Forms
If the parties have reached an agreement and do not desire to proceed with a lengthy trial, they can use Rocket Lawyer’s easy interview process to complete a Divorce Settlement Agreement outlining all the details of the division of property, assets, debts and liabilities, and settling matters of child support, custody and visitation.
In addition, the state of Missouri has provided a divorce packet for all of its residents, free of charge. Please remember that even if you plan to represent yourself in the divorce, it is still a good idea to consult a lawyer before filing the forms on your own.
Please remember that the rules in your county will probably dictate your divorce; do not be surprised if there are extra forms or procedures.
A Note about the 50/50 Split
In the state of Missouri, marital assets and debts are not split 50/50 but on an “equitable” or fair basis. When separating property, debts and children, the state of Missouri pays very close attention as to who gets what. Economic circumstance, contribution of each spouse to acquisition of property, value of non-marital property, conduct of each party and where the children want to go can all be huge factors into who gets what after the couple separates.