In Missouri, if the requirements regarding residency are met, the bases for a dissolution of marriage are generally: (1) that the marriage is irretrievably broken AND (2) that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.
On those rare occasions where the spouses are not in agreement that a divorce needs to happen, the Respondent (the person who did not file the petition in court asking for the divorce), will file an answer or response which denies one or both (it is virtually always both that are denied) of the allegations that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.
When such a denial or denials are filed, the law does give the Petitioner some options. the divorce will be granted if the Petitioner can establish one of the following: “(a) That the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent; (b) That the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent; (c) That the respondent has abandoned the petitioner for a continuous period of at least six months preceding the presentation of the petition; (d) That 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) That 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.”
In St. Louis County, the judges are not particularly receptive to claims that a divorce should not be granted because the marriage is not irretrievably broken or that there is a reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.
I have handled several cases here where the Respondent strongly objected to the divorce on religious grounds (one was a minister, another was a devout Catholic who attended a High or Latin Mass every day of the week her entire life) and the judges handling those cases were unmoved and indicated that having a hearing was pointless, as the divorce would be granted and the Respondent would be ordered to pay the Petitioner’s attorneys fees for the entire case in the divorce judgment. In both of those cases, my client simply consented to the divorce, and we were able to negotiate favorable results in both cases.
There is also a provision in the law that gives the judge hearing the divorce the discretion – but not the obligation – to continue the case for at least thirty (30) days but not more than six (6) months to allow the parties to pursue counseling. Most judges and attorneys are not aware of this provision and in more than 30 years of handling divorces in St. Louis County, I have only achieved a continuance for this counseling once. That case was the one with the very devout Catholic who attended High Mass every day, the parties had been married for over 40 years and had six children together. Against the advice of his attorney, the Petitioner agreed to the counseling and as a result we were able to resole the divorce while largely preserving the parenting relationship (and grandparenting relationship) between the parties.
When I am advising clients who want to deny that the marriage is irretrievably broken and there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved, I ask that they carefully consider that decision, preferably with a therapist. The reason for this advice is that once this denial is made, we will need to inquire about the basis for the claim that the marriage is irretrievably broken and that there is no reasonable likelihood that it can be preserved so we know what we are up against. The answer to that inquiry can be quite painful.