When a married couple decides it is time to end the marriage, most couples end up going through a divorce, or “dissolution of marriage.” There is some misinformation about alternatives to divorce, including annulment or a legal separation. There are limited situations where an annulment or legal separation may be available.
If you have any questions about filing for divorce, seeking a legal separation, or getting an annulment, contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm today.
Annulments in Missouri
An annulment effectively cancels a marriage as void. Certain types of marriages are prohibited and if a couple marries in violation of these laws, the marriage is void or can be annulled as voidable. Certain marriages are prohibited by Missouri law, including:
- Close kinship,
- Lack of mental capacity,
- Bigamous marriages,
- Underage marriage, or
- Marriage under fraud or duress.
Under MO Rev Stat § 451.020, marriages between certain close relatives (including first cousins), are presumptively void. Similarly, marriages between persons who lack the capacity to enter into a marriage contract are also presumptively void.
Under MO Rev Stat § 451.030, “all marriages, where either of the parties has a former wife or husband living, shall be void, unless the former marriage shall have been dissolved.”
Under MO Rev Stat § 451.090, marriage licenses are not to be issued to a marriage where either individual is under the age of 16. Marriages to individuals between the ages of 16 and 18 require the consent of the custodial parent or guardian.
Where a marriage is void based on the above prohibitions, the marriage is effectively not valid. However, the couple may be required to file for an annulment to clear up their marital status. This generally includes annulling a prior illegal marriage in order to legally marry another person. An annulment can be tricky and may have an impact on other areas of a separation, including:
- Alimony, and
- Property division.
What is NOT an Annulment
Contrary to some misunderstandings, an annulment is not available to cancel a marriage within a certain time frame. For example, a spouse cannot wake up after the wedding day and run to the courthouse to annul the marriage within 24 hours. Additionally, a church annulment will generally not affect the legality of a civil marriage.
A church annulment or religious annulment is separate from the civil marriage and annulment process. Some married couples may consider a church annulment based on their religious beliefs or standing in the church. Questions about a church annulment should be directed to the couple's religious leaders. However, a church annulment generally does not affect the legal status of a civil marriage. Unless the couple is legally divorced, the couple would still be married.
Legal Separation in Missouri
When a spouse files for divorce, there is a finding that the marriage is “irretrievably broken and there is no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.” If the court finds that there is a chance the marriage can be preserved, the court may order a legal separation.
The effects of a legal separation are very similar to dissolution of marriage (divorce). The process of a legal separation is the same as for dissolution of marriage and begins with filing a petition to dissolve the marriage.
Similar to divorce, in a legal separation the separating couple will have to decide a number of issues, including how to divide and share responsibilities, property, and assets, including:
These child and property issues may be decided through a separation agreement, where the parties agree on how to handle child custody, visitation, alimony, and property division. This goes into effect during the legal separation and would continue if the legal separation is converted into a dissolution of marriage.
For the next 90 days, the couple can decide whether or not they want to reconcile or go through with a divorce. If the couple decides to try and work things out, the court can set aside the legal separation and the parties will continue as married.
After 90 days from the date of judgment of legal separation, either spouse may file a motion to convert the judgment into a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. After a divorce judgment has been entered by the court, it cannot be set aside. If the couple later decides to get back together, they would have to formally marry again to be considered legally married.
Example of a Legal Separation
Lucy finds out Luke has been having an affair with his secretary. Lucy is heartbroken at the betrayal and files for divorce. Over the next couple of weeks, Lucy and Luke begin communicating again and going to see a counselor. Lucy wants to move on but Luke does not want the marriage to end. During the divorce court appearance, the judge talks to both parties. Lucy says she is not sure if the marriage is irretrievably lost. The judge determines there may be a chance the couple will reconcile. Instead of ordering a dissolution of marriage, the judge enters an order of legal separation.
For the next 3 months, Luke and Lucy continue to communicate and Lucy finds out about other incidents of marital misconduct. After 90 days, Lucy files a motion to convert the legal separation to divorce. After a court hearing, the couple is formally and legally divorced.
Legal Separation, Annulment, and Dissolution of Marriage
If you have any questions about whether a legal separation or annulment is available as an alternative to divorce, talk to your Missouri family law attorney. Your lawyer can advise you on the best option for your situation to protect your rights and provide for your family. Contact the Higher Level Legal Law Firm in Raymore online or by calling (816) 331-9968.