If you feel your marriage has reached an end, how do you begin the legal process of divorce? We, of course, recommend you first consult with an attorney with significant experience in the field of family law. But to give you a sense of where you would file, what the petition must contain, and a timeline, we offer a brief overview.
To file for divorce in Missouri, you or your spouse must have been a resident for at least ninety days preceding the date of the petition. If you have so resided, you would file in the county of your residence. If you and your spouse have separated and both live in separate counties, you could file in either county. If you and your spouse have separated and one has moved to another state, you can file in your county of residence but be aware that your spouse could file in that out of state residence so long as he or she meets their residency and other requirements. Different states have different rules, in addition to the travel burden, so you would do well to check with your attorney about the need to file first and choose your forum.
If you have children, you also need to consider their particular residency to be sure that the court in which you file also has jurisdiction for child custody. This issue can be rather complicated for a blog post; generally, if the children have resided in Missouri for six or more consecutive months, Missouri will be considered the “home state” of the children and a court will have the ability to decide custody. If the children have resided in Missouri for less than six months, other factors will come into play and you will want to discuss those factors with your attorney.
If you have met the residency requirements, you can proceed to the initial filing, which requires a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. The Petition requires you to state a variety of information, including that your marriage is irretrievably broken and cannot be preserved, and what arrangements you seek with regard to child custody, child support, spousal support and distribution of property. Additionally, with the Petition you must file a Statement of Income and Expenses, that will detail your monthly sources of income and your fixed and variable expenses, and a Statement of Property, that will detail your assets and liabilities. If you have children, you will also be required to submit a proposed parenting plan. Finally, you will be required to pay the filing fee.
After the paperwork has been completed, you will file in the family court division of the circuit court in the county in which you reside, and the clerk of the court will assign your Petition a case number and a specific family court, which could be presided over by a family court commissioner, an associate circuit judge or a circuit judge. The clerk will also issue a summons to be served on your spouse.
Once served, your spouse has 30 days to file an answer or risk going into default. The clerk will schedule an initial conference with the judge to get a sense of the case and establish a timeline for the litigation. In some counties, you may be sent to mediation automatically to see if you and your spouse can reach a resolution without the lengthy process of litigation. Also, if you have children, you will have to complete a parent education class. If mediation is not successful (or not necessary), the litigation proceeds and it could be six months to two years before your divorce becomes final, all depending upon the complexity of the issues, the level of conflict and the caseload of the particular court.
If you have additional questions about initiating a divorce in Missouri, contact us – we can help.