An Overview of Divorce Laws in Missouri
If you are considering a divorce in Missouri, it is important to understand the divorce laws and how they apply to your situation.
This guide will help you understand the rules and procedures so that you can equip yourself with the information you need to get through a divorce in Missouri.
If you are a Missouri resident considering divorce, there are several laws and processes you should know about before taking your first steps.
Let’s get started:
Marital Property and Division of Assets in Missouri
Missouri is an equitable distribution state. This means courts will attempt to divide property and assets in a divorce in a fair and equal way, but it doesn’t mean that the assets will always be divided on a 50/50 basis.
In a divorce, there are marital assets and separate assets. Marital assets are those accumulated during the course of the marriage up until the day of separation. Separate assets are any property owned by a spouse prior to the marriage as well as some property that has been acquired either by a gift or inheritance.
Equitable distribution consists of the court deciding which assets are marital vs. separate property, placing a fair market value on each asset, and then actually dividing the assets.
There are several factors that are considered when making an equitable distribution. Some of these include:
- The economic circumstances of each spouse at the time the division of property becomes effective, including the desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live in it for reasonable periods to the spouse having custody of the children
- The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including the contribution of a spouse as homemaker
- The value of the nonmarital property of each spouse
- The conduct of the parties during the marriage
- Custodial arrangements for minor children
- Tax implications
- Any other relevant factors
In Missouri, any debt acquired during a marriage is the responsibility of both parties, up to the date of separation. Both spouses are liable for repayment even if one spouse agrees to pay the debt as part of an asset settlement.
A court may determine that a particular debt will follow the property each spouse is awarded. For example, if a spouse is given a car as part of the settlement, then they would be responsible for making payments and would probably have to buy out the other person’s interest.
It is important to remember that even though one spouse may be assigned the debt, if a spouse can’t make payments or refuses to pay, the nonpayment of the debt will affect both spouse’s credit scores. When nonpayment becomes an issue, a spouse can request that the payments be enforced by seeking relief in court.
In Missouri, and property that was acquired as a gift specifically to one spouse is considered separate property. However, if there is an increase in value in the gift, to the extent that a spouse contributed to the increase, that portion could be considered marital property.
The person who receives a gift during a marriage and claims it as separate property has the burden of proof to show that the gift was intended to be separate property.
In addition, just because a gift is commingled, such as money put into a joint checking account that was received as a gift, it does not necessarily make the asset marital property. The key is to be able to prove what amount was a gift to prove what part is marital and what part is not. If this can’t be done, the court will consider all the money as marital property.
Inherited property is considered separate property in Missouri. However, an inheritance can become marital property if it is commingled or placed in a couple’s joint account.
Another way to protect an inheritance is to have a spouse sign a post-nuptial agreement whereby he or she agrees that the inheritance belongs to one spouse only, no matter how it is used in the marriage.
Pensions, IRAs, 401Ks and Retirement Plans
In Missouri, pensions and retirement benefits that are acquired during a marriage are considered marital property. This means they are subject to the state’s equitable distribution laws during a divorce.
Determining the exact value of pensions and retirement accounts can be complex and often times, a financial expert such as a pension evaluator or a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst may be required to make an accurate assessment.
Legally splitting pensions and other retirement funds is a multiple step process. After the dissolution of marriage has been granted, an attorney or a specialized firm must create a qualified domestic relations order, more commonly referred to as a QDRO.
If you’re looking for an easy way to draft a QDRO, look no further! QDRO Counsel is an online service that specializes in drafting QDROs, and does so at a fantastic price. We recommend QDRO Counsel as our #1 online QDRO drafting service provider!
The QDRO must be approved by the courts and then it can be submitted to the plan administrator who must also approve it. This establishes that a spouse can be considered an alternate payee, and the retirement vehicle is then divided according to the specifics contained in the QDRO.
In Missouri, all real and personal property acquired before a marriage, or property acquired during a marriage through an inheritance or gift is considered separate property. Separate property remains separate even if it is commingled during a marriage, but you must be able to prove what part was separate, otherwise the court will consider the asset as marital property.
Alimony/Maintenance in Missouri
Alimony is Missouri is based on several factors. A judge will take these factors into consideration when determining the length of payments (if they are made at all), whether payments should be for a fixed period or an indefinite period, or if there should be a lump sum payment instead.
The following factors are considered:
- Current earnings and earning capacities of each spouse
- The ability of a spouse to pay spousal support
- The amounts and potential sources of other income for each spouse, including retirement, benefits, social security and others
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s conduct during the marriage (i.e. adultery, cruelty, etc.)
- The age, physical, mental and emotional state of each spouse
- The impact on the ability to earn a living if one spouse was the custodial parent who served as the primary caregiver for any children in the marriage
- The standard of living that was created during the marriage
- The education levels of each spouse and how much time might be necessary for the dependent spouse to go back to school to better prepare them to earn a living after divorce
- Contributions by a spouse who served as a homemaker
- Tax issues rising from the award of alimony
- Any other factor that might be relevant to awarding alimony
Either party can request a change in the amount of spousal support to be paid. A change may be granted if there are new facts or a substantial change in one party’s circumstances.
Alimony will end when the dependent spouse gets remarried or either spouse dies.
Child Support in Missouri
Child support in Missouri is based on how each parent fills out a Form 14, which indicates the monthly gross income for both parents. Parents must list salaries, wages, commissions, dividends, pensions, trust income, unemployment compensation, veterans’ and disability benefits and several other sources of income.
From this, a court order is created that spells out how much a parent will be expected to contribute to child support.
Informal agreements are not enforceable, so going through the legal process is essential. Orders are enforced by the Missouri Family Support Division – Child Support Enforcement or by the courts.
Missouri has Schedule of Basic Child Support Guidelines that are used to establish an amount, but courts are free to deviate from that amount if they deem it appropriate.
Child support will include financial support for basic needs such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, and health care. The non-custodial parent can also be responsible for daycare, extracurricular activities, private school expenses, and medical expenses not covered by insurance.
Support payments will continue until the child:
- Turns 18, and has graduated from high school and isn’t enrolled in college
- Graduates from college
- Attends college or vocational training less than full-time
- Turns 21 years old
- Enters into active duty in the military
- Loses their life
If a parent misses child support payments, then the other parent can petition the courts to force payment through several possible means. This can include withholding the parent’s wages or benefits, placing liens on their property, garnishing tax refunds, and in some cases imposing criminal penalties.
Either parent can also file a motion to ask that the amount of child support be changed. This may happen when custody arrangements change, or one parent goes through a job change.
Custody and Visitation
Child Custody in Missouri
Missouri laws recognize two types of child custody:
Legal custody. This is when a parent is allowed to make important decisions that affect a child’s life. This may include where to go to school, religious instruction and medical treatment and decisions.
Physical custody. This describes when a child lives with a parent. It is common for one parent to have physical custody and the other parent have visitation rights to minimize the disruption on a child’s life.
In all cases, custody is determined by the best interests of the child. There are several factors that go into deciding this:
- The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties
- The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents
- The ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent.
- The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved
- The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child
- The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian especially if the child is older (age 11 and up)
Missouri custody law permits grandparent visitation in limited situations. There is no guaranteed right for a grandparent to have visitation with a grandchild, but it may be granted in certain circumstances.
Since Missouri is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, substance abuse cannot directly be cited as a reason to get a divorce. But, indirectly, it can be cited as part of a fault based divorce in that one spouse behaved in such a way that the other spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with that spouse. Drug and alcohol abuse qualifies under this standard.
If there is a danger to the child, as there would be with drug or alcohol abuse being present, then courts may restrict or deny visitation or custody of a child for the spouse in question. Courts will always take the best interests of the child into primary consideration and this type of problem represents a clear and present threat to the well-being of the child.
If you plan on using substance abuse as an issue in a divorce, it is best to document the abuse and how it has impacted your marriage. This can be done by gathering statements from witnesses or law enforcement, social services agencies, family members or others who can provide first-hand evidence and insights.
Bifurcation of marital status
Bifurcation is allowed in Missouri. It means that both parties in a divorce can legally divide their divorce into two stages. The first part satisfies the grounds for the divorce. The marriage is terminated at that point.
It also means that the financial aspects of the divorce such as child custody, visitation, child support, alimony or other contentious issues that may have stalled or that have become major sticking points will be finalized at a later date.
The downside of bifurcation is that it can result in two trials and more expenses and if a spouse is looking for a fresh start more quickly, bifurcation can hold one spouse hostage at the whims of the other.
In Missouri, spouses are required to disclose all income, expenses, assets, and debt that is both marital and separate as part of a divorce.
It is illegal for one spouse to hide assets because this can impact an equitable division of assets. Accurate disclosure of assets is also required because is impacts whether or not spousal support should be required and what amount of child support should be ordered.
If you suspect that a spouse has not accurately disclosed assets, a formal process known as “discovery” can be implemented, forcing the other spouse to produce necessary documentation.
Defiance of this legal requirement can result in fines and other penalties. In some cases, the issuance of a subpoena may be required, or a party may want to engage the services of a forensic accountant.
When a spouse does not participate in a divorce in Missouri either due to non-cooperation or they simply fail to show up or respond to a complaint, it is possible for the other spouse to move forward and get a divorce by default.
After an initial complaint has been filed and served, a spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint. If there is no response during that time, a judge may grant a default judgment which assumes that a spouse agrees to all terms of the requests made in the petition. The court will hold a default and inquiry hearing where the court will review the petition, and if the unresponsive spouse does not show up, the court will finalize the divorce.
In marriages where domestic violence is taking place, any actions you take related to divorce are secondary to making sure that your immediate safety or the safety of any children are taken care of.
There are strong safeguards in place by law enforcement and they will take swift actions to make sure all parties are protected. Prior to filing for divorce, you can ask the court for a protective order to legally keep your spouse away from you. This action can extend throughout the divorce process.
Domestic violence can include any kind of physical abuse, emotional abuse, stalking, or any other kind of harassment including those made through phone calls, mail, or social media inflicted on one spouse by the other. In cases where domestic violence is suspected, an abuser can be charged and may face serious legal consequences.
Missouri courts must follow specific rules and statutes regarding domestic violence that arise in the course of a divorce.
A pattern or history of domestic abuse in Missouri qualifies as marital misconduct and that could support an unequal distribution of property in the divorce as well as child support or child custody rulings.
If domestic violence can be documented, the abuser may not be allowed any child custody privileges, or visitation may be granted but on a severely restricted and supervised basis.
In many marriages, a couple will only have health insurance through one of the spouse’s employers. The other spouse relies on this coverage and this can be a major life changing issue when a divorce takes place.
In Missouri, a spouse cannot cancel insurance during a divorce. Missouri law states that “from the date of filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, no party shall terminate coverage during the pendency of the proceeding for any other party or any minor child of the marriage under any existing policy of health, dental or vision insurance.”
Once a divorce has been finalized, employers will not allow an ex-spouse to remain on a health insurance policy. However, an ex-spouse can apply for COBRA benefits. This is a law that protects people from losing health coverage during major life transitions. It allows you to continue with your spouse’s current coverage for up to 36 months as long as you pay the premiums.
Health insurance for children is usually part of a divorce settlement and child support/custody agreement. Spouses may agree that children are covered under one spouse’s health insurance and if the purchase of private insurance is required, then it will need to be negotiated as to which spouse pays, or if both spouses must contribute to the costs.
Infidelity and Adultery
Infidelity and adultery occur when a spouse has sex voluntarily with someone other than their spouse while they are still married.
However, because Missouri is a no-fault state, adultery cannot be used as a grounds for divorce. But it can still have an impact on things such as alimony, child custody or in a division of assets. The court places a primary concern on the well-being of children in a marriage and if it can be shown that adultery has created a negative environment, then custody may be affected to some degree.
If it can be shown that an adulterous spouse spent considerable marital assets on an affair, then this may also have some impact in certain cases when it comes to a division of assets or alimony.
Military Divorces in Missouri
If you or your spouse are a member of the military and want to get a divorce in Missouri, you or your spouse live or be stationed in the state as a requirement. The grounds for a military divorce are the same as they are for a civilian divorce.
Just as in a civilian divorce, once paperwork has been filed in Missouri to begin a divorce, copies must be served on a spouse to give him or her a chance to respond. However, when that spouse is in the military, they have certain protections afforded to them by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
This allows them to postpone the divorce while they are overseas or otherwise not able to adequately respond to the petition due to military service commitments. They are also protected from being held in default from failing to respond in a timely manner.
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases many legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty. A service member may choose to waive delaying the divorce by signing off on paperwork which will then allow the divorce to proceed uncontested.
Normal equitable property division laws apply for a military divorce in Missouri, but the federal government also protects military personnel through the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act that governs how military benefits are calculated when a divorce takes place.
Normal Missouri child support guidelines, worksheets and schedules are used to determine the proper amount of support to be paid, but federal law dictates that combined child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemembers pay and allowances.
Looking for more advice about divorce? Here are a few of our favorite resources: