Legal Separation vs. Divorce in Missouri


Learn the key differences between legal separation and divorce in Missouri with The Carson Law Firm’s guide. Call us today for more information.

An Overview: Understanding the Differences Between Legal Separation and Divorce in Missouri

At the crossroads of life, there comes a time when a relationship’s course compels us to face the difficult decision between legal separation and divorce. Couples may find themselves considering legal separation or divorce due to various reasons such as irreconcilable differences, infidelity, financial disputes, or simply growing apart over time. 

Legal separation serves as an option for those seeking potential reconciliation, while divorce is chosen to definitively end the marital ties. Both paths carry distinct legal implications in Missouri, and a thorough understanding of these implications can significantly impact the decision-making process.

We will explore the critical aspects of legal separation and divorce in Missouri, emphasizing the legal and emotional ramifications and offering guidance on choosing the path that best aligns with your needs. 

At The Carson Law Firm, our experienced St. Louis divorce lawyers have extensive experience helping St. Louis families with family law matters, prioritizing exceptional representation and unwavering dedication to meeting your needs and goals.

Understanding Legal Separation in Missouri

To initiate the legal separation process in Missouri, one spouse must establish residency in the county for at least 90 days. This spouse must file a “Separate Maintenance” petition at their county circuit court and serve the necessary documents to the other party.

The responding spouse must then file an official answer with the court. Following the filing date, there is a waiting period of at least 30 days before the court can issue a judgment.

The court issues a legal separation judgment after determining a reasonable chance to preserve the marriage rather than considering it irretrievably broken. The court also considers matters such as child support, custody arrangements, property division, and spousal support as part of its jurisdiction.

Benefits of Legal Separation

  • Health insurance benefits: Legal separations allow separated spouses to retain health insurance coverage, Social Security, and other benefits through their partners, while divorce terminates those entitlements.

  • Reconciliation: Once a divorce is finalized, it is permanent. However, if estranged spouses desire to live apart but hope for potential reconciliation, they may choose legal separation. Both spouses can request the court to reverse the legal separation and reinstate their marriage.

  • An Easier Route to Divorce: After 90 days from the approval of legal separation, either spouse can petition the court to convert it into a divorce. No extra documentation is needed, only a formal request for the court to proceed.

  • Property Rights: When one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse may still be eligible for property benefits, even if they are legally separated. However, spousal property rights are terminated upon divorce. 

Understanding Divorce in Missouri

In the state of Missouri, divorce, which is legally referred to as the “dissolution of marriage,” represents the final termination of a marital union. This legal process effectively cancels the legal duties and responsibilities associated with marriage, dissolving the bonds of matrimony between the parties involved. 

It is important to note that Missouri operates under a “no-fault” divorce system, allowing individuals to file for divorce without the need to establish fault or prove misconduct on the part of their spouse. Unlike other states, no waiting or separation period is required before filing for divorce. 

According to RSMo § 452.305, to establish residency for dissolving a marriage, it is necessary to have lived in Missouri for 90 days immediately before filing the divorce petition.

Implications of Divorce 

Divorce has legal implications encompassing the division of assets and debts, child custody arrangements, and spousal support. Some key considerations include the division of property. 

In Missouri, various types of assets, including marital assets, separate assets, and individual property, such as gifts or inheritances, are considered in divorce proceedings. Seeking legal counsel before finalizing any written agreement is highly beneficial. The court determines which assets are marital or separate, assigns a fair value, and divides them in the best interest of each spouse. 

Both parties are responsible for accumulated debts. The Carson Law Firm can assist in identifying assets subject to division, protecting financial interests, and facilitating the best outcome. 

Child support, custody, and visitation are also essential aspects. In Missouri, joint custody is generally favored, and the court may intervene in determining legal and physical custody. Getting the help of an experienced family law attorney can help you understand the essential steps to consider when preparing for a divorce.

Comparing Legal Separation and Divorce

While both legal separation and divorce provide a way for couples to live apart, they come with distinct legal and financial implications. Some key differences between the two options include:

  • Purpose: Separation is a temporary measure that does not signify the ultimate dissolution of the marriage, unlike divorce, which marks the permanent end of the marital bond.

  • Legal Status: During legal separation, the two parties remain married in the eyes of Missouri law, preventing either party from entering into a new marriage. However, divorce marks the complete termination of the marital relationship, granting both parties the freedom to enter into new marriages.

  • Preserving Benefits: The legal status of separation in Missouri offers married couples the opportunity to maintain eligibility for a range of valuable benefits, including Social Security, life insurance, health insurance coverage, tax benefits, military perks, retirement plans, and more. Conversely, opting for a divorce would result in the termination of these benefits, which could pose significant challenges, particularly as one or both spouses approach retirement age.

  • Property Rights and Death: Legal separation safeguards each spouse’s rights to inherit the other spouse’s property upon death. In contrast, a divorce decree extinguishes these rights.

  • Ending Separation and Reconciliation: To dissolve a separation, all that is required is a court ruling that dismisses the separation. There is no necessity for remarriage. However, if a divorced couple decides to reconcile, they must legally remarry to regain their legal privileges.

Choosing What’s Best for You

Deciding between a formal divorce or a legal separation depends on personal preference and what works best for you and your family.

With legal separation you can still enjoy certain advantages, like filing joint tax returns and keeping the same health insurance coverage if you’re on the same plan. Especially for families dealing with medical crises, a legal separation can provide the peace of mind of continued health insurance, easing the financial burden on the ill spouse. However, it also means you and your spouse keep your married status in the eyes of the law, which may not be ideal for your situation.

Consult a Missouri divorce lawyer to understand your options and make the best choice for your situation. 

How The Carson Law Firm Can Help

If you’re going through a divorce or dealing with child custody and other family law matters, you can rely on the divorce attorneys at The Carson Law Firm. Our committed attorneys will give you the guidance and advice needed to fully understand the impact of divorce or legal separation. We’ll help you make the right choice for your unique situation.

With a focus on child custody, asset distribution, and spousal support, our experienced attorney will protect your rights and interests throughout the process. At The Carson Law Firm, we pride ourselves on offering a compassionate, thorough, and client-centric approach. 

We Are Here for You

Embarking on the intricate path of divorce and legal separation can feel overwhelming. However, with the guidance of a skilled legal team, you can confidently navigate this journey and set a new course for yourself. Choosing to separate or divorce is profoundly personal and depends on your unique circumstances. 

The Carson Law Firm, renowned for its years of experience in family law matters, is prepared to offer the comprehensive support you require. Our commitment to a client-centric approach and extensive experience make us an ideal partner for your legal journey. If you seek personalized advice and representation, don’t hesitate to contact The Carson Law Firm.

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