A divorce in Missouri, commonly known in legal terms as a “dissolution of marriage,” requires filing a petition in court and getting a final judgment. If both spouses agree on how to resolve the issues presented by the divorce, including division of marital property, child custody, and child support, they can present an agreed order and obtain an uncontested divorce. Otherwise, they may have to present their case to the court. The first step in the divorce process — contested or uncontested — is to file the petition and other necessary paperwork. The following is a general overview on how to file for divorce in Missouri. A family attorney with experience in Missouri’s family courts can help you understand your rights and options under the law.
Before you can file anything, you must determine if you are eligible to file for divorce in Missouri. State law imposes limits on whether you may file here at all, and where you may file for divorce within the state. These are known as “jurisdiction” and “venue,” respectively.
For Missouri courts to have jurisdiction over your divorce, either you or your spouse must have resided in Missouri for at least ninety days before the date you file the divorce petition. This allows you to file for divorce here even if your spouse has moved to another state. If you have moved away from Missouri, and your spouse has stayed here, they can file for divorce in a Missouri court. Note however, that separate jurisdictional rules apply to children and child custody matters that may be part of the divorce.
In Missouri, circuit courts at the county level handle divorce cases and other family law matters. You must file your divorce petition in a county where either you or your spouse lives. If you both live in Kansas City, for example, you must file in the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County, or in Platte or Clay counties if North of the river. If only one of you lives in Kansas City, and the other lives in Lafayette County, for example, you may file your divorce in Kansas City or Lexington.
Missouri is a “no fault” divorce state, meaning that you do not have to prove any specific wrongdoing by your spouse, such as abuse or adultery, in order to obtain a divorce. If your spouse has committed misconduct of some sort, the court may take that into account when deciding issues like how to divide the marital property. It is not required for the divorce itself, though.
All a Missouri court needs to find in order to grant a divorce is that “the marriage is irretrievably broken,” and that “there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” A marriage that could still be preserved is not eligible for a divorce in Missouri, but could result in a legal separation. Usually, as long as at least one spouse shows eagerness to pursue a divorce, a court will find that the marriage cannot be salvaged.
Now that you know you are eligible to file for divorce, you may be wondering how to file for divorce in Missouri. As with most legal proceedings, it begins with paperwork.
The document that starts a divorce proceeding is the petition. Whichever spouse files for divorce is the “petitioner,” and the other spouse is the “respondent.” Missouri law establishes guidelines for what a petition must contain, including:
The petition must be verified, meaning that you must sign it in front of a notary public after swearing that everything within it is true to the best of your knowledge.
When you file your divorce petition, the court clerk will create a document known as a “summons.” The Missouri Supreme Court has established rules for how to serve your spouse with the summons and a copy of the divorce petition. The person serving the summons must prepare a document known as a “return,” which states when and where they served the respondent. This also gets filed with the court. The divorce case cannot proceed until the court has proof that the respondent has received the paperwork.
The amount of time it will take to complete your divorce depends on how many issues you need to address, how many disputes you need to resolve, and other factors. You and your spouse might reach an agreement on everything in your divorce, or you may need to take some issues before the court.
In any event, a court cannot grant a divorce until at least thirty days have passed since the petition was filed. If you file a petition for divorce on June 1, and you and your spouse sign an agreement that covers everything involved in the case on June 10, you must still wait until July 1 before you can finalize the divorce.
Mark A. Wortman is a family law attorney in Kansas City, Missouri who focuses exclusively on divorce and related matters like child custody and child support. To schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled legal advocate, please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100.