How to get divorced in Missouri

Tags: Missouri, Online Divorce

Image: f11photo / iStock

By Steffan Lawson

Published Jul 27, 2022

Requirements for divorce in Missouri

  • You need to live in Missouri for at least 90 days before filing for divorce

  • You need to file for divorce in the county you or your spouse lives in

  • After filing the divorce petition, you must wait at least 30 days before the court will grant a judgment or decree of divorce.

Grounds for a Missouri divorce

The grounds for dissolution of marriage in Missouri for a “no-fault” divorce is that the marriage is “broken irretrievably” and there is no likelihood for reconciliation. And, if either your spouse or you do not agree that the marriage is broken, then the spouse filing the divorce petition must prove one of the grounds mentioned below:

  • Intolerable cruelty

  • Abandonment

  • Adultery

  • If both spouses have lived separately and apart for a minimum of 1 year by mutual consent and 2 years without mutual consent.

  • There should be no expectations of the reconciliation of the couple.

Step 1: Starting your missouri divorce

Preparing the Documents

To start the divorce process in Missouri, you must complete the appropriate forms, which can be obtained from the Missouri judicial website, local county court clerk or a third party online service.

Documents Needed

The forms that need to be completed for filing for divorce in Missouri are:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage: This form affirms that the marriage is “broken irretrievably” and there is no reasonable likelihood of a reconciliation, the date of the marriage and location, date of separation, where both spouses reside and work, if there are any minor children, where they live and custody arrangements proposed.

  • Answer to the Petition of Dissolution: Completed by the respondent when he/she agrees with the divorce complaint that has been filed by the petitioner.

  • Missouri Department of Health Certificate of Dissolution of Marriage: This records the divorce for the purposes of record keeping.

  • Income and Expenses Statement: Has the income and expense details of both the spouses.

  • Property and Debt Statement and Proposed Separation Agreement: Lists the assets and liabilities of both spouses and the distribution the petitioner wants.

  • Parenting Plan: Lists out the custody and visitation details of minor children and also the support details.

  • Family Court Filing Certificate: Lists any other pending actions involving the spouses.

  • Judgment of Dissolution: When signed by the judge, this ends the marriage.

Filing Your Forms

When you have completed the “Divorce Petition” and “Confidential Case Filing Information Sheet”, these must be filed in the circuit court of your county along with the filing fee. There are 45 regional circuit courts in Missouri and each court covers many counties. For county-specific information and links to the state map, you can check the “Your Courts” section of the judicial branch website of Missouri.

When you file the divorce petition in court, make sure that you have an extra copy of the petition to serve to the respondent.

Step 2: Notifying your spouse

The Missouri law requires that the respondent be served with the petition for dissolution copy by one of the methods as below:

  • The respondent is served by the county sheriff in the place where he/she resides or works.

  • Receiving the divorce petition via a private process server.

The respondent can complete the “Answer” if he/she does not want to be served the petition directly. By completing the answer, the respondent spouse acknowledges that he/she has received the copy of the petition and the court has authority over the divorce case.

The answer can also be made use of to file the respondent spouse’s response to the petition, where the respondent can agree or disagree with any of the statements presented by the petitioner in the divorce petition.

Step 3: contested or uncontested?

MO uncontested divorce (Low Costs)

In an uncontested divorce, your spouse and you have an agreement on all the key issues of the divorce and the agreement must be total. If you are unable to agree on all the issues, then the case becomes contested and will go to trial.

In Missouri, there are 2 ways by which you can get an uncontested divorce:

Default Proceeding

If the petitioner spouse files the divorce papers and serves them on the respondent spouse, but the respondent does not file or serve his/her response, then the case gets set for an “uncontested final hearing” because the respondent is in “default”. In a default judgment, the spouse cannot get money/settlement from the other party.

Joint Divorce Petition

If both the spouses agree on the terms of the divorce right from the start, then they can file a joint petition (file the divorce petition together) along with a copy of the written agreement. This will enable them to bypass the remainder of the divorce process and directly proceed to the final hearing, where the judge will sign the divorce decree. a joint petition divorce is the fastest divorce option; however, for this, your spouse and you must agree on everything.

MO Contested Divorce (High Costs)

If your spouse and you do not agree on the various issues of your divorce, such as distribution of property and debt, child custody, child support, alimony, etc., then this becomes a contested divorce and the court will make the decisions regarding the various issues for you.

This usually prolongs the divorce process and also the legal costs are higher; however, it is the best process to ensure that both spouses are heard and that all evidence is presented properly.

Step 4: DIY or get a lawyer?

DIY divorce Papers (Slower & Least Costly)

If you plan to represent yourself and get a DIY divorce in Missouri, then this is an easy, quick and affordable way to end your marriage. a DIY divorce typically involves obtaining the required documents directly from the judicial branch website of Missouri which is available under the “Represent Yourself” section.

You can access the pamphlet along with the fill-in divorce forms, which require a lot of information to be filled in. You must read all the forms carefully and either type the details and get a printout or fill out the forms by hand neatly.

If you are representing yourself, then the Missouri state requires you to complete the “litigant awareness program” that can be completed by either reading the materials or watching the video available online. Once you have done this, you must complete the “certificate of completion” and then file it with the circuit court.

However, before you start filling out the document, you must understand how the Missouri courts work and you must file your divorce forms in the correct circuit court in the county where you or your spouse reside. In case the circuit court in your county has a family division, then your divorce case will be handled by this division.

You’re responsible for knowing in which court you are required to file your papers and if you file the documents in the wrong court, then your case could be dismissed or transferred and you may have to begin the process again. Also, the instructions and laws for divorce in Missouri are extremely detailed and if you make any mistakes while filling out the forms, then the judge may have concerns or questions about the papers and may ask you to appear in court to address all the issues at a final hearing.

Online Divorce Services (Fastest & Inexpensive)

The main issue with a DIY divorce in any state is that you have to figure out the paperwork and how it fits your situation. Choosing to go with an online divorce service will eliminate that worry nearly completely for an uncontested divorce.

Once you sign up, you will answer questions about your situation and when you are done, you will be able to download your divorce papers completely filled out with your answer to your questions. These services save a lot of time and in most simple cases, you can have your divorce papers in hand within a few hours. We think 3StepDivorce is the best service in the marketplace right now and you can read our review here.

Attorney Divorce Trial (Longer & Expensive)

This option should be the last option if you and your spouse can not seem to agree on the divorce or are willing to fight it out in court. When you opt in for a trial, the judge will then hear all the details, evidence and testimonies regarding your case and then make decisions on various issues. Usually, a case that goes to trial is complex and requires an attorney, who can present and argue the case on your behalf.

Step 5: The big issues

Missouri Property division

In Missouri, the marital property is divided in an equitable manner, since it is an “equitable distribution” state. The court will make a decision on the division of the marital property and debt after considering factors such as:

  • The economic situation of each party when the property division will become effective including giving the family home to the spouse who has the custody of the children or giving him/her the right to live in the marital home for a reasonable period of time.

  • Contribution of each party to the purchase of the marital property and also the contribution of each party as a homemaker.

  • The non-marital property value that is set aside for each party.

  • Conduct of both spouses during their marriage.

  • In case of minor children, custodial arrangements that have been made.

Marital property is all the property that is got by each spouse after the marriage except:

  • Any property that is got by bequest, gift, descent or devise.

  • Any property that has been acquired in exchange for any property got before the marriage or got in exchange of property got by bequest, gift, descent or devise.

  • Property got by the spouse after the decree of legal separation.

  • Any property that is excluded by a valid written agreement between the spouses.

  • Any increase in the value of the property got before the marriage unless the marital assets including the labor have contributed to the increase of value.

Alimony / Spousal Support

The court may order a spouse to pay alimony or spousal maintenance to the other if the spouse is not self-supporting. However, before passing the order for spousal support, the judge will consider the following:

  • Financial resources of each spouse

  • Assets and debts

  • Earning capacity

  • Length of the marriage and

  • Conduct of each spouse during the marriage

If there is a significant change in the circumstances of either of the spouses, then the amount of alimony may be modified. An award of spousal maintenance terminates automatically if the spouse who is receiving the alimony gets remarried.

Child Custody Laws

The Missouri court is guided by the best interests of the child when making the order for child custody. If the parents agree on the custody arrangements, then they can submit the same to the court and this will be adopted if the court finds the agreement in the best interests of the child.

However, if both parents are unable to agree on the custody, then the court will consider factors such as parents’ wishes, relationship of the child with each parent, siblings and any other significant members of the family and friends, which of the parents will encourage the relationship of the child with the other parent and how the child is able to adjust to his/her home, community and school.

The objective of the judge is to ensure that both parents are actively involved in the child’s upbringing and so the sex, age or financial status of the parent are not pertinent factors. If either parent wants any change in the custody order, he/she must show a substantial change in his/her circumstances.

Child Support

To determine the child support amount, the state guidelines are used on the basis of the combined income of both spouses. The court also considers the financial needs and resources of the parent and child, the physical, educational and emotional needs of the child and the earlier standard of living of the child.

Until the child reaches the age of 18 years, child support will continue, unless in case of an exception such as if the child is disabled or the child is attending graduate school or college. In Missouri, the child support obligations are enforced by the Department of Social Services.

Step 6: Finalizing your divorce in Missouri

Once the divorce petition is filed, the respondent has a chance to file and serve an answer and if this is not done, then the respondent will be deemed to be in default and a date for the final hearing will be set. This could mean that the respondent is simply negligent or it can mean that both spouses have agreed to the terms of the divorce once the petition was served.

The court requires that if you have children with your spouse, then both parents must attend a parenting class, for which they must pay a fee. After filing the first pleading, you must sign up for a parenting class.

The court also requires at least 2 hours of mediation apart from attending the parenting classes. This can help you resolve the disputes more efficiently, quickly and in an economical manner rather than going through long-drawn litigation.

In Missouri, there is a 30-day waiting period and this essentially means that even if your spouse and you have filed for divorce jointly and you are co-petitioners, the court won’t be able to grant a divorce until 30 days after filing the petition.

The 30-day waiting period is helpful if you need to settle your regular divorce case. And, if your spouse and you agree about the issues, it can be documented and submitted to the judge at the final hearing. The judge may ask for a brief testimony from the petitioner or co-petitioners and if all the documents are fine and the judge finds the agreement to be fair, then he/she will sign the final divorce decree.