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Divorce FAQ: How Long Does a Divorce Take in Missouri?

how long does a divorce take

How long does it take to get a divorce in Missouri? This is a question that family lawyers hear often. Divorce is a difficult, often painful process, but it does not always have to be a lengthy one. The amount of time it takes to finalize a divorce depends on many factors, such as how much the parties are contesting the issues, how much they are willing to cooperate, whether expert witnesses need to get involved, and whether the case goes to trial or ends in a settlement. At a minimum for the most uncontested of cases, you should expect a divorce to take around ninety days from the date a divorce petition is filed. Depending on the county, fully contested matters can take 6 to 12 months, or in some cases even longer.

When Can I File for Divorce in Missouri?

Filing for divorce in Missouri requires a petition that identifies the spouses and their minor children, if any, and provides information about the marriage and separation. Missouri divorce laws allow anyone who has been a resident of this state for at least ninety days to file a divorce petition, although if child custody is at issue, the jurisdiction requirement is typically 6 months. Military service members who have been stationed here for ninety days or longer may also file for divorce.

How Long Does a Divorce Take in Missouri?

Missouri law states that a court cannot grant a divorce until thirty days after the date the petition was filed. It is possible for someone to have a settlement agreement signed and ready to present to the judge on the thirty-first day. This is rare, though, due to most court’s docketing, which is why we cite ninety days as the minimum that you should expect.

While every divorce is unique, one of the biggest factors that may determine how long it will take is the extent to which it is contested or uncontested:

  • In an uncontested divorce, the parties are either already in agreement on the major issues when the petition is filed, or they are able to reach an agreement with minimal involvement by the court. Both parties might be represented by counsel, or only one party has an attorney who prepares the paperwork and helps them take it to the court for approval.
  • In a contested divorce, the parties are not on the same page. They might be able to come to an agreement after negotiation or mediation. The court might have to hold a hearing on temporary orders and other matters while the case is pending. If the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement, the court will have to conduct a trial.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?

As mentioned above, an uncontested divorce takes a statutory minimum of thirty days, although ninety days is a more likely minimum. In order to settle an uncontested divorce, the parties must reach an agreement on several issues:

  • How to divide marital property and debt;
  • Payment of spousal support, if any; and
  • If they have minor children, a parenting plan that includes child support, custody, and visitation.

Resolving these issues could be relatively simple, depending on the parties’ circumstances. The more assets they own, the longer it might take to negotiate a division. If they have children, they will have to work out many details in advance. The parenting plan must include:

  • A schedule for each party’s parenting time, along with a plan for holidays and exchanging the children;
  • Provisions for health insurance, child support, and the division of medical and other expenses;
  • A plan for communication and decision-making between the parents; and
  • Other relevant matters concerning parenting and the children.

The court will want to see that the parents have a plan for resolving disputes affecting the children, at least in part to minimize the likelihood that they will need to return to court to modify or enforce any part of their agreement.

How Long Does a Contested Divorce Take?

While cases have an absolute minimum length of thirty days, there is no specific maximum length of time. This does not necessarily mean that a court will simply allow a divorce case to drag on for years. Courts can dismiss a case for “failure to prosecute” if it has been inactive for too long. If the parties are actively litigating, though, a divorce case can go on for quite some time.

Reasons that a contested divorce might take a long time include:

  • The parties own a large amount of marital property, cannot agree on how to divide it, and must retain appraisers and other professionals;
  • One or both parties are accused of marital misconduct, such as adultery or abuse, and this is affecting issues like property division or spousal maintenance; or
  • There are allegations of child neglect or abuse, and the court has appointed a guardian ad litem to represent that child’s interests.

If negotiation, mediation, or other efforts at dispute resolution do not produce a settlement agreement, the case will have to go to trial. This means finding time on the court’s docket. Depending on the county or the court, this will likely be months later.

Can I Get a Divorce if My Spouse Does Not Want It?

Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that you can obtain a divorce without proving that your spouse was at fault for the breakup of the marriage. A court must find that the marriage is “irretrievably broken,” and that there is “no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”

If your spouse denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken and the Court agrees, it is possible that a judge will grant a legal separation instead of a divorce. After ninety days, you can ask the court to convert a legal separation to a divorce.

Kansas City family attorney Mark A. Wortman has dedicated his practice to divorce and related family law issues. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100.

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Mark A. Wortman

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Kansas City family law attorney Mark A. Wortman handles only divorce and family law matters, and practices only in the State of Missouri. Due to this specialty, Mark Wortman has handled thousands of Missouri divorce and family cases and has practiced… Read More

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