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Several years ago, the St. Louis County Family Court adopted Rule 68, which acts as a guide to the orderly progression of family law (dissolution of marriage (divorce), legal separation, paternity (unmarried parents, father not named on the birth certificate), custody and support (unmarried parents, father named on the birth certificate), third party custody and grandparent visitation and modification.

Notably not included are adoptions and legal guardianships:  the former are handled in the juvenile court, and the later are processed through the probate court).

Cases where a child of the parties was born before the marriage

A note about when a child is born prior to the marriage of the parties and the father is not named on the birth certificate:  Rule 68 provides that in such divorce cases, two cases must be filed, 0with no separate filing fee required for the paternity case.  The two cases will be assigned to the same judge, and the attorney filing the paternity case (almost certainly this will be the same attorney who files the divorce) is specifically charged with advising the court in the paternity case of the divorce case number.

Rule 68 contains some specific requirements regarding what must be filed with the initial Petition or Motion, but the attorney will be responsible for guiding you through this (or, if you are representing yourself, the self-represent center will help you).

Adult Abuse -Type of Language

One of the more significant parts of Rule 68 is sub-part 3, which applies to the person filing the Petition or Motion upon filing and the other person upon service. Each provision in the Rule that limits or prohibits an action, except (A) and (B), has an exception where the Court orders otherwise or the parties agree otherwise in writing in practice, this can be an agreement between the attorneys for the parties in the case. The operative portions of Rule 68.3(2) are quoted below, and the remainder are summarized below. My comments are in italics.

“(A) Neither party shall harass, abuse, threaten to abuse, threaten to abuse, stalk, molest or disturb the peace of the other party or any of the parties’ minor children, wherever they may be found.”

This is essentially the same language as in an Adult Abuse Order of Protection, but I believe that the police and the courts will view the violation of a duly issued Adult Abuse Order far more seriously than a violation of this local rule in terms of criminal or quasi-criminal consequences resulting from a violation.

No Damaging Any Property

“(B) Neither party shall conceal or damage any property, real or personal, owned solely by the other party or jointly by the other party.”  

While not obvious, the judge will also frown upon a party who damages property owned solely by that party.

Continue to pay for Insurance in Effect at the time of Filing for Divorce

“(C) Neither party shall cease payment for, or cause to be terminated, any coverage for the other party or any of the minor children under any policy of medical, dental, vision, hospitalization, automobile or disability insurance on the date of filing of the case.”

Even though the Rule speaks in terms of insurance in effect at the time of filing the case, any failure to continue to provide insurance that was historically provided in any reasonable proximity to the filing of the case will result in severe financial consequences to the acting party.

No Relocating the Residence of the Children

“(D) Neither party shall relocate the residence of any of the parties’ minor children outside of the State of Missouri, nor shall any party conceal the child from the other or deprive or hinder a party with whom a child has resided for the sixty days immediately preceding the filing of the case from reasonable or previously ordered visitation or custody.”

This rule echoes a law in effect or nearly all states, which provides that with extremely limited exceptions, custody of a child must be decided in the state where the child has lived for the six months prior to the filing of the case and also the Missouri law governing relocation of a child and sets forth very specific rules that must be followed precisely in order to lawfully change the residence of a child, even within the state.

Do Not Stop Paying for Usual and Necessary Utilities

“(E) In any dissolution, legal separation or action for annulment, neither party shall shut off, cease payment for, or cause to be terminated the usual and necessary utilities being provided to the residence of either party.”

Sadly, this rule was precipitated by litigants – including parents- behaving badly.

Do Not Close Accounts or Sell Property Except in the Ordinary Course of Business or for the Necessities of Life

“(F) In any dissolution, legal separation or annulment action, neither party shall close or borrow against any bank or investment account, certificate of deposit or IRA or retirement account, nor shall either party    dissipate, sell, remove, assign, transfer, dispose of, lend, mortgage or encumber any property of a party, real or personal, except in the ordinary course of business or for the necessary expenses of the parties’ family under the circumstances” (emphasis added)

Most judges view a loan against a retirement account or a draw against a home equity line or credit to pay a retainer to an attorney or a cost deposit for litigation to be permissible under this rule.    

“(G) In any dissolution, legal separation or annulment action, neither party shall incur extraordinary credit card or other debt except for in the ordinary course of business or for the necessary expenses of the parties’ family under the circumstances.”

Again, as attorney’s fees and litigation costs are routinely paid with credit cards, doing so is extremely unlikely to be deemed a violation of this Rule.

Court Orders Unaffected by this Rule

Rule 68.3 is not intended to modify any specific court order entered with respect to any of the individuals involved in the case and will continue in effect until further order of the Court or the end of the case.

Consequence of Violating Any Part of this Rule

Violation of Rule 68.3 may be punished by imposition of sanctions, either directly or through contempt.

Parent Education Class

Rule 68.4.2 In all cases involving custody in the Family Court, all parties must complete a court approved Parent Education Program.

This must be completed prior to entry of a final judgment. If a party is in default (not participating in the court process), only the party who is pursuing the case has to complete the class. Due to the pandemic, the class is only available on-line astlparenteducation.com.  Before the class was on-line, judges routinely allowed parents living out of state to take a court-approved parenting class where they werelocated or waived this requirement.

Proposed Parenting Plan Must be Filed

Rule 68.4 requires that each party to a case involving unemancipated children is to file a Proposed Parenting Plan within 30 days of service of the original Petition or Motion on the non-filing party.

This rule is consistently ignored and the exchange of Parenting Plans occurs by arrangement between the attorneys or as the result of a court order requiring exchange by a specific date.

The Mandatory Exchange of Documents

Rule 68.5 requires the mandatory exchange of certain documents in all cases in the family court. This required exchange may be waived by mutual consent of the parties, but otherwise, the exchange of documents is to occur within 60 days of service of the original case.

Documents to be exchanged in every case:

The last three years of federal and state tax returns, including all attachments and schedules;

Evidence of earnings (such as paycheck stubs) for the three months immediately preceding the filing of the case;

In cases involving children, documentation for the last 12 months of child care costs and payment of medical insurance and dental and orthodontic expenses for the minor children. (I have never done this nor have I seen it done. It is curious that medical expenses are not included)   

In cases involving a request for maintenance, a division of property or allocation of responsibility for debt (essentially any divorce) or a request for payment of attorney’s fees (in almost every case we have, one or both of the parties request that the other party pay some or all of their attorney’s fees.  I have never had a non-divorce case where attorney’s fees were requested and on that basis alone, this second set of documents was exchanged), these additional documents must be exchanged:

The 3 most recent statements from bank and other financial accounts, including retirement accounts, regardless of the name on the account;

Any appraisals of personal or real property in the name of either or both parties that was done in the 12 months preceding the filing of the case;

Credit and charge card statements for the three months preceding the filing of the case;

The most recent mortgage statement for loans secured by property regardless of the name(s) on the underlying property; and

The most recent statement statement for any existing debt regardless of the name on the debt (in my experience, this is not interpreted to include attorney’s fees and costs for the current litigation).

The document exchange requirement is waived if the parties agree to waive any part of the exchange if they agree that certain documents are not relevant or the case is resolved and the settlement submitted or the case set for a default within 60 days from service.

Compliance with this Rule is signified by completing and filing a court-approved form with the Court.