Can a Missouri Judge Deny a Divorce?
Divorce is a difficult, emotional, and often messy process. Missouri is a “no-fault” divorce state. The person who has filed for divorce, known as the “petitioner,” only needs to show that no reasonable chance exists for them to reconcile with their spouse. What happens, though, if a judge is not convinced about the possibility of reconciliation? Can a judge deny a divorce under Missouri law? The short answer to this question is “yes,” although it is very rare. As long as both parties have signed a fair divorce agreement, a Missouri judge is likely to grant the divorce. An experienced divorce lawyer with knowledge of Missouri law can help you if you are concerned about whether you can be denied a divorce.
What Are the Grounds for Divorce in Missouri?
Every state in the country, along with the District of Columbia, allows no-fault divorce. The petitioner must show that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” They do not have to establish who, if anyone, is responsible for “breaking” it. Missouri divorce law only requires a court to find “that there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.”
Some states still have fault-based divorce laws on the books. The person filing for divorce must prove that the other spouse has committed an act that provides a fault-based ground for divorce, such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment. Missouri only recognizes no-fault divorce with one important exception discussed further below.
What Does “Irretrievably Broken” Mean?
Missouri divorce law does not provide a definition of “irretrievably broken” beyond the lack of a “reasonable likelihood” that the spouses can remain married. The purpose of no-fault divorce laws is to allow people to leave unhealthy or unhappy marriages without having to prove that their spouse did something awful.
A marriage could be “broken” because of conduct that would provide a fault-based ground for divorce, or it could simply be that a couple fell out of love. When both spouses agree that their marriage is “irretrievably broken” a court is likely to grant a divorce in the following circumstances:
- The spouses have gone to trial after engaging in extensive and/or hostile litigation, which weighs in favor of their marriage being broken; or
- They have reached a settlement that is fair to both of them and their children.
Please note that saying that judges are “likely” to do something does not mean that they will always do that thing. While it is rare, it is possible that a Missouri judge would conclude that the spouses are wrong about their marriage being broken.
Can the Court Deny a Divorce in Missouri?
A divorce case involves numerous important issues, including division of marital property, child custody, and child support. Before a court can get to any of those issues, though, it must find that it has the legal authority to grant a divorce. This requires a judge to find that the marriage is irretrievably broken. Missouri law provides two ways for a court to conclude that the marriage is not that broken.
One Spouse Disputes the No-Fault Divorce
If the spouse who did not file for divorce, known as the “respondent,” denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the case may become a fault-based divorce. The court can delay the case for up to six months to allow the spouses to seek counseling. The petitioner will have to convince the court of the following:
- The respondent committed adultery;
- The respondent’s behavior has made it unreasonable for the petitioner to continue living with them;
- The spouses lived apart from one another “by mutual consent” for at least twelve months before the petitioner filed for divorce; or
- They lived apart for at least twenty-four months prior to the filing date.
If the court finds that the petitioner has not met their burden of proof, it can deny the divorce, however this is not common and the burden of proof is typically an easy one to meet.
Mark A. Wortman, a Kansas City family attorney, has dedicated his practice to divorce and related family law issues. Please contact us today online or at (816) 523-6100 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.