Divorce / Paternity / Orders of Protection

Divorces in Missouri are started by filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  Either the husband or wife must be a resident of the State of Missouri for 90 days immediately preceding the filing of the case. There is a 30 day waiting period following the filing of the Petition.  If unemancipated children are involved then information regarding the prior state of residence of the children must be provided, and a proposed Parenting Plan must be filed.  In cases where there is an interstate custody battle, the Courts will look to the Uniform Child Custody Act, and hold a special hearing to determine jurisdiction if necessary. 

In cases where there is a custody “battle” the Courts will hear evidence and decide what placement is in the best interests of the child.  Parents are required to attending parenting classes when they file for divorce.  Also, the law now requires the parents to attend mediation if they cannot agree on a final parenting plan or settlement.  Mediation has been very successful in helping couples resolve their issues, and ultimately most contested cases do not go to trial.  If abuse or neglect is alleged, the Court will appoint a Guardian Ad Litem.  This is another attorney, trained to investigate such cases, which will meet with the child and conduct an investigation.  The parents are each required to deposit money with the Court to pay the Guardian and for the costs of the investigation. Sometimes the Court will require the parents to submit to psychological examinations.

The Court uses the Form 14 to determine the amount of child support that must be paid.  Although in most cases the parties share joint legal and physical custody, there is usually one parent who has the children more overnights and that parent often receives an award of child support.  Even in a true split custody case, if one parent makes substantially more than the other, the wealthier parent may still have to contribute child support.  Child support is retroactive to the filing of the petition.

Maintenance of a spouse is another issue in many divorces.  If the spouse lacks sufficient property to provide for their reasonable needs, and cannot obtain appropriate employment or is the custodian of a young child, they may seek maintenance.  Of course, maintenance will only be ordered where the other spouse has the ability to pay maintenance.

Missouri is an equitable division of property state, but the Court can consider the conduct of the parties in dividing the property.  As a result, property acquired during the marriage is not always divided 50-50.  The Court sets aside to each party their non-marital property.  For instance, if there is a pension to be divided, the Court will exclude from the division any amount of the pension that was acquired prior to the marriage. 

Some people choose to have pre-nuptial agreements when they marry so that they can determine between themselves how they want their property to be divided in case of divorce or death.  This is usually more common in second marriages or in situations where there is a family owned business.

In paternity cases, the main issues are custody and child support. Maintenance can only be awarded when the parties are married.  The Courts use the same legal principles to determine custody and child support that they do in divorce cases. 

Many people seek to file ex parte orders of protection when they are separating. Although this used to be a way of obtaining temporary custody, most courts do not award temporary custody now, especially if a divorce or paternity petition is on file.

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