A Guide to Divorce in Missouri
This guide will help you understand many rules and procedures so that you can equip yourself with basic important information you will need to help you get through a divorce in Missouri.
In broad terms, most divorces follow the same general rules and procedures in the state. However, while all divorces share many things in common, every case is unique as well.
That’s why, for your particular instance, you should also get answers to your questions through other sources such as a family law attorney, your county courthouse, friends and relatives who have gone through a divorce, and online resources to help you deal with the financial, social and emotional challenges you’ll face along the way.
Let’s get started.
- The differences between divorce, annulment and separation
- What are the grounds for divorce in Missouri?
- Deciding what kind of divorce you will go through
- The process of filing for divorce
- How to complete proof of service
- Filing for divorce in Missouri without using a lawyer
- How much does divorce cost in Missouri?
- How long does it take to get a divorce?
- Should I retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
- Bifurcation of Marital Status
- Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Missouri?
- What is a divorce decree?
- What is a divorce certificate?
- Changing Your Name
- Bonus: Recommended Resources for a Better Divorce
The differences between legal separation, separate maintenance, annulment and divorce in Missouri
Married couples can end their marriages through annulment or divorce in Missouri. Legal separation and separate maintenance are legal options to divorce or annulment and while they are similar, they do have differences.
Legal Separation. Rather than go through a dissolution of marriage, spouses can choose legal separation instead. This follows the same process as a dissolution of marriage and allows a judge to decide several important issues such as custody, alimony and a division of assets, but the marriage is not terminated. Some people choose this option for religious reasons, health insurance, immigration concerns or because it is better financially to stay married.
Separate Maintenance. In many states, separate maintenance is the same as legal separation, but in Missouri they are two distinct actions. Separate maintenance is more limited and only allows a court to decide child support and alimony issues.
Annulment. Annulments are allowed in Missouri, but they can be difficult to get. To get an annulment, you must ask that a marriage be invalidated by proving one of the grounds allowed by the state. These grounds include:
- Marriage under the age of 18 without parental consent or permission from the court
- Lack of capacity such as senility, mental incompetence or impotence
- Duress or fraud
- Marriage to a close familial relation
- Common law marriage
There are no time limits set for obtaining an annulment in Missouri.
Missouri allows a divorce to be annulled as well. This means the divorce never happened in the eyes of the law.
Divorce/Dissolution of Marriage. In Missouri, divorce is called a dissolution of marriage and is a permanent and legal end to a marriage. All ties are severed, assets are divided, custody and alimony issues are resolved, and each spouse goes their separate way after a final decree is issued by the courts.
What are the grounds for dissolution of marriage in Missouri?
Missouri is a no-fault state which means that it is not necessary that either spouse did anything wrong. You must simply state that the marriage is irretrievably broken, and a judge will grant a dissolution of marriage. In many cases, all that is required is for you to testify that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
What kind of divorce is right for you?
Aside from the decision to get a divorce, the single most important decision you will make is the type of divorce.
You see, there are only two ways that you reach a final resolution:
- You and your spouse agree
- A judge decides
The type of divorce sets the frameworks for how you get to a final resolution. The process you and your spouse choose sets the tone and shapes the outcome of your divorce.
Before we get into the details, there’s one thing I want you to keep in mind:
One type of divorce is not “better” than another. Divorce is not one size fits all.
Alright, here are the types of divorce:
What I like to call the kitchen table divorce. This one is pretty straight forward. You don’t hire any professionals and attempt to resolve all your differences with your spouse. The biggest downside is you don’t know what you don’t know. I’d steer clear of this approach unless you don’t have kids or any money.
A far superior choice to DIY divorce. Navigating the divorce process and legal procedures can be a minefield. A good online divorce platform removes the guesswork. Through guided interviews, you’ll complete the forms while getting educated on the key legal issues in the process. This can be a great option if you have a relatively straightforward situation and you’re on the same page with your spouse.
The default option and also the most expensive. If you and your spouse can’t agree on one of the other options, then you’re headed for litigation. Litigation is an attorney-driven process. While the majority of cases settle before going to trial, that doesn’t mean litigation won’t wreak havoc on you and your kids.
Sometimes it’s the only viable option, however. If your spouse has a high-conflict personality (narcissist, borderline, etc.) or there is domestic violence, litigation might be your only option. It’s also the right choice if your primary objective is to punish your spouse. As tempting as that might be, I encourage you to think about the big picture.
With mediation, you and your spouse retain a neutral professional (typically an attorney) to help facilitate agreement. The mediator will help you brainstorm options, understand each other’s perspectives, and make compromises to reach a resolution that you and your spouse can both live with.
Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t just mean that you and your spouse are going to work out your divorce “collaboratively.” There’s much more to it. Collaborative divorce is a structured process that takes a team approach. Divorce is much more than a legal process. It’s about money, kids, and emotions. That’s why a Collaborative team includes collaborative lawyers, a divorce coach, and a neutral financial specialist.
Unlike any other process, everyone commits not to go to court. The idea is that this removes the threat of litigation which fosters creative solutions and interest-based negotiation. It’s far and away the most supportive type of divorce.
Learn More: I’ve really just scratched the surface on the types of divorce. For a deep dive into the pros and cons of these options, be sure to check out our guide on the types of divorce.
What is the process of filing for divorce in Missouri?
Gather important information. When it comes to gathering the information you need, it’s imperative to be organized and proactive. This will give you the best chance at receiving the best possible outcome for your divorce.
Not only will this ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process, but it will also save you time, anxiety, and money (which you’ll want to save for the next parts of your divorce).
Before you jump in to collecting financial information, take the following steps:
- Open a new checking and savings account in your name alone.
- Open a credit card in your name alone.
- Order a free credit report.
- Make a list of all the assets and liabilities that you’re aware of. Include any memberships, reward points, and other perks that may be considered as assets.
Okay, now it’s time to start gathering your information. Here’s a short-list of what you need:
- Tax returns (including W-2’s, K-1’s, and 1099’s) for the last 5 years
- Pay stubs for the last 3 months
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Retirement account statements
- Pension plan statements
- Grant notice for stock options, RSUs, etc.
- Investment account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage statements
- Real estate appraisals
- Deeds to real estate
- Car registration
- Kelley Blue Book printouts (“private party value”)
- Car loan statements
- Social security benefit statement
To see exactly what you should focus on gathering, we’ve prepared a Divorce Information Checklist that you can check out here as part of our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.
Complete the initial paperwork. You will need to complete several forms and submit them to start the divorce process. If you’re using an attorney, they will make sure you are using the right forms and that they are filled out correctly.
To file for divorce in Missouri, you need to submit a “Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage” along with any other divorce papers that are required for your specific circumstances. The Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage is the main divorce document.
If you have children, you will need to complete a parenting plan and a form that details all of the custody decisions that you and your spouse agree on. Ideally, you and your spouse will agree on everything and you can submit the form together. If you do not agree, you can both submit a parenting plan. Keep in mind, if you both submit a parenting plan, it will be the judge who decides the final terms of custody.
You will also need to submit a “Confidential Case Filing Information Sheet” with your divorce documents.
File your forms. After you have completed your forms, you will need to file the paperwork at the county court where you or your spouse have lived for at least 90 days. The completed forms must be notarized by a notary public before they will be accepted. The court where you submit the documents may have a notary available.
When you file your forms, you will need to pay a filing fee. Fees vary by county but average between $150 to $200. In St. Louis county, these fees are $225.
Completing proof of service in Missouri
When you file your petition for dissolution, a copy will be delivered to the sheriff or a process server if you request. You cannot serve the papers yourself. Either the sheriff or process server will serve the petition on your spouse and will make a report to the court that the petition was served.
If you are not able to serve your spouse with the divorce paperwork, you may still obtain a divorce by publication. A public legal notice announcing your filing of the divorce will be placed in a legal newspaper for at least 30 days.
Filing for divorce in Missouri without using a lawyer
In some instances, you can file for divorce without using a lawyer.
You don’t have to hire an attorney to file for an uncontested divorce in Missouri. If you file your divorce without an attorney, you are considered pro se (pronounced pro say).
The forms are designed for uncontested divorces, meaning both parties agree all issues regarding property and debt division and, if relevant, child support, custody and visitation.
Another way to avoid using a lawyer while going through a divorce in Missouri is through the use of a mediator, as long as both you and your spouse agree on this option. Over the course of one or more sessions, a mediator will review financial documents, forms and worksheets as part of a discovery process and then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions about the outstanding issues, attempting to peacefully resolve things such as child support and custody, alimony and a division of assets.
Once these issues are resolved, a mediator will draft a Memorandum of Understanding and you will file this document with the court as part of your divorce process. Going this route saves time, money and stress in most cases.
How much will it cost?
When you file for divorce, you are required to pay a filing fee that can range from about $150 up to $225 if you file in St. Louis County. You will also need to file a process of service fee to make sure your spouse is served properly with your divorce complaint. This can run about $25 to $50 and possibly more depending on the method you use.
It may be possible to have obtain a fee waiver if your income falls below the federal poverty level. In some cases, it is also possible that a judge might order one spouse to pay the other’s legal fees where there is a large disparity of income. Missouri also has a relatively extensive legal aid network that you may be able to access as well.
If there are any unresolved issues regarding your divorce, you can expect to pay an attorney legal fees that will range from $200 to $500 per hour depending on how complex your divorce is and how many hours it will take to resolve those issues. You will also need to pay some sort of a retainer up front to start the process.
Fully contested divorces can run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on how contentious the divorce is, what kind of assets are involved, and how much disagreement there is with child custody and support issues.
How long does it take to get a divorce in Missouri?
At a minimum, a dissolution of marriage cannot be granted until at least 30 days after a Petition for Dissolution has been filed with the court. However, in most cases you will need to wait a minimum of 30 days from the date the other spouse officially receives the petition.
You must also make sure you meet the residency requirement for a Missouri divorce. You or your spouse must have been a resident of Missouri for at least 90 days immediately preceding the filing of a petition for dissolution.
Contested divorces or divorces where negotiations must take place regarding custody, alimony, child support and a division of assets will increase the time frame that it takes to reach a settlement. It is not uncommon for some high asset or hotly contested divorces to take as much as one to two years or more. Much of the duration depends on your personal circumstances.
Should I consider using a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst?
If you are going through a financially complicated divorce, you may need someone who can assist you with an accurate and objective analysis of the financial and tax implications of your decisions.
This will help you make the right decisions now when it comes to reaching a settlement with your spouse. It’s important to get this right from the start – you won’t get a second chance.
While some people with simple situations may only need a family law attorney to help them with this process, many others will benefit from working with a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and preferably someone who is also a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Is bifurcation of marital status allowed in Missouri?
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.
Can I cancel, refuse, contest, stop or reverse a divorce in Missouri?
If you or your spouse do not want a divorce, it can be denied in court that the marriage is irretrievably broken. You can still get a divorce, but you will need to show one of the following:
- Your spouse committed adultery
- Your spouse acted so poorly that you cannot live with them anymore
- You spouse has abandoned you for at least six continuous months before the divorce was filed
- You and your spouse agreed to live separately and that you have done so for at least 12 months prior to filing for divorce
- You and your spouse live separately for at least 24 months prior to filing for divorce
What is a divorce decree?
When a dissolution of marriage is granted in Missouri a legal document will be issued detailing the rights and responsibilities of each party, including financial responsibilities and a division of assets. It will also cover child custody, visitation, alimony, child support and other similar issues.
It is a legally binding document, and if either party does not meet the requirements and obligations set forth in the decree, the other party can take legal action to correct any deficiencies.
What is a divorce certificate?
A divorce certificate has much less information than a decree. It usually only names both spouses and the date and place of a divorce, but nothing else.
A divorce certificate provides proof that a couple is no longer married and can be used as proof to effect a name change on certain documents such as a driver’s license. It may also be used to provide proof that a person is single in case they want to get married again.
Changing Your Name
When preparing your divorce forms, you will be presented either an option to either restore your former name or request a court order for changing names.
The name change will be granted as part of your divorce. You may either receive a separate court order making your name change official, or else have your name change recorded on the final divorce decree. Either of these documents are accepted with all U.S. agencies and organizations as evidence of your name change.
Your name change will not take effect just because you have a court order. You need to contact all your organizations to request your records are updated.
It takes a long time to reach out to each company and figure out what to send where, so we recommend using an Easy Name Change kit to cut out the 10+ hours of research and paperwork that follows.
Recommended Divorce Resources
There are a ton of divorce resources on the internet that all make big claims about what they can do. Most fall short.
A few stand above the rest.
These are the resources and tools we want to share with you because we’re certain that they can help you at any point in the divorce process.
If you’re looking for recommendations in any of the following areas, we’ve got you covered:
- Online divorce
- QDRO preparation to divide retirement plans and pensions
- Masterclass on ninja tricks to negotiating with a narcissist
- Co-parenting apps
- Personal finance and budgeting apps
- Best place to sell your engagement ring
- Online dating (post-divorce)
- And a whole lot more