Your spouse has cheated on you, his or her spending is out of control, or you just can’t seem to get along anymore. There are many reasons why marriages fail and getting divorced can be a long and complicated process. Whether you are the one seeking a divorce or you just found out your spouse has filed, it’s important to get an experienced divorce attorney to help guide you through the emotional process of getting a divorce.
A brief overview of how the divorce process works in Missouri:
Step 1: Filing the Paperwork
The divorce process begins with the filing of the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. Missouri is a no-fault state. This means that the person filing for divorce doesn’t have to “prove” that their spouse was “at fault” for the breakdown of the marriage. However, you will still need to state the motivation for leaving the marriage. Typically, the reason cited is that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved and therefore the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Location matters. To file for divorce in Missouri, you must have lived in Missouri for at least 90 days prior to filing. Then you must file in the circuit court for the county where you live.
Along with the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, you will also need to file a Statement of Income and Expenses and a Statement of Property. These forms can be complicated and time consuming, but their purpose is to disclose to the Court how much money you make, how much money you spend on a monthly basis, what property you own individually and with your spouse, and how much debt you have. It’s important that your information is accurate and up-to-date so the Court can get a better picture of what your marriage looks like financially.
Step 2: The Parenting Plan
If there are minor children of the marriage, you must also file a Parenting Plan. The purpose of the Parenting Plan is to lay out a custody schedule that is in the bests interests of the children. It’s always important to remember that the children of the marriage are both spouses’ children. Try to refrain from viewing the children as your children and keep in mind that the Court is favorable to plans that foster a supportive relationship with both parents.
Step 3: The Pretrial Conference (also known as a Status Conference or Case Management Conference)
Once you have filed the Petition and necessary forms, and your spouse has had adequate time to file his or her response, a Pretrial Conference will be set. The purpose of the conference, and there may be several, is to move toward settlement. The Court will want you to do everything in your power to compromise with your spouse, settle the major issues, and reach a Settlement Agreement that you, your spouse, and your children can live with. If you and your spouse aren’t able to reach a Settlement Agreement, your case will eventually be set for trial.
Step 4: Discovery
If there are sticking points, such as the division of assets or custody of children, which you and your spouse can’t agree on, your attorney will likely start gathering additional information through discovery. The most common forms of discovery are subpoenas, depositions, formal Requests for Production of Documents and Interrogatories. Discovery can be expensive and significantly increase your legal bill – be sure to discuss the discovery strategy with your attorney so you can weigh the cost vs. the benefit of gathering additional information. You may decide that further compromise with your spouse is in your financial best interests.
Step 5: Trial
Once both parties have had adequate time to gather information through the discovery process, the case will be set for trial. Settlement is possible and often happens even up to the morning of trial but sometimes an agreement just cannot be reached. At trial, both parties will have the opportunity to present evidence, call witnesses, and cross examine the opposing party and witnesses. Once both sides have had the opportunity to present their case, the judge will decide all issues the parties weren’t able to agree on.
Without a doubt, divorce is one of the most confusing and stressful events you’ll ever face. It’s important to keep in mind that this article merely outlines the basic divorce process in Missouri; every case is different and your process may be simpler or more complex. If you’d like to get legal advice about your individual situation, call 314-863-9955 to schedule a confidential consultation. We’re here to help guide you through the process.By Valerie Craig on behalf of The Law Offices of Kathleen E. Shaul, P.C.