Getting a Divorce in Missouri
It is not required to provide proof of fault to obtain a divorce in Missouri. “Fault” can refer to various marital misconducts, such as a spouse committing adultery, abandonment, prolonged separation, or other evidence that illustrate the impossibility of continuing the marriage.
The court’s sole determination is to establish that the marriage is irretrievably broken without any realistic possibility of reconciliation. This type of divorce is commonly referred to as a no-fault divorce in Missouri.
Missouri is a modified no-fault divorce state. And although evidence of fault is not required to get a divorce, it can be significant to specific parts of a divorce process, including spousal maintenance or alimony and property division.
Missouri No-Fault Divorces
For a judge to grant a Dissolution of Marriage (formerly called a “divorce”), the judge must find that there is no reasonable likelihood that that marriage can be preserved and that the marriage is irretrievably broken. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the parties agree to both points.
However, if a court does not find sufficient evidence to support this conclusion, it has the discretion to either deny a divorce or grant a judgment of legal separation.
The evidentiary standard to establish that a divorce is “irretrievably broken” is generally not hard to meet. It often suffices for one spouse to initiate a divorce filing while the other spouse does not contest the irreparable breakdown of the marriage.
Missouri is a “No-Fault” State, Except…
What if one spouse denies the marriage is “irretrievably broken?” If either party denies under oath that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the party seeking the dissolution of marriage must plead (meaning say in a paper signed under oath and filed with the court), one of the following:
(a) the respondent spouse committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent; OR
(b) the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent; OR
(c) the respondent has abandoned the petitioner for a continuous period of at least six months preceding the presentation of the petition; OR
(d) the parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart by mutual consent for a continuous period of twelve months immediately preceding the filing of the petition; OR
(e) the parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart for a continuous period of at least twenty-four months preceding the filing of the petition.
If the basis upon which the request for a dissolution of marriage is that “the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent”, the party making that claim should be prepared to state in a pleading the specific behaviors that are the basis for the claim.
In other words, the filing party must establish “fault.” Evidence of situations or conducts that can be considered as “fault” may be relevant or even necessary.
In addition, the spouse who committed some form of misconduct can be ordered by the court to pay a higher amount of spousal maintenance. The same applies if the tables are turned. The court may reduce the amount of alimony paid to the spouse who committed misconduct.
Moreover, misconduct by one spouse can result in a court awarding a greater share of marital property to the other spouse.
When Fault Is Not Relevant in a Missouri Divorce
Missouri law considers that fault is not relevant for the child support determination. It states that Missouri courts should determine child support without considering potential marital misconduct.
It’s similar when it comes to child custody and visitation. The most important factor is the best interest of the child. Evidence of fault or marital misconduct can be considered only if it affects the child’s well-being.
How Can a Divorce Attorney Help?
When you file your divorce paperwork, bear in mind that there is a 30-day waiting period before the judge can grant a final dissolution judgment. However, a divorce process typically lasts longer. An experienced divorce attorney familiar with local divorce laws can make sure your rights are protected if you want to file for divorce in Missouri.
For more questions on no-fault divorce in Missouri, reach out to a family law attorney at The Carson Law Firm.