Deciding to file for a divorce is one of life's most difficult decisions. You would likely not be on this page if you were not considering it. Here, an overview of the divorce process is provided, but the process can be much more complex than outlined below. If you have questions, you should contact a knowledgeable divorce lawyer.
At Higher Level Legal Law Firm, our lawyers are a group of professionals experienced, compassionate family law attorneys based in Raymore, Missouri, but he represents clients throughout all of Cass County, including clients in Raymore, Belton, Plesant Hill, Loch Lloyd and Harrisonville. He can help you through your divorce. Regardless if your divorce involves high assets, alimony, child support, child custody, or other highly emotional and contestable issues, we got you covered.
This guide is designed to help you learn more about what a divorce involves. After reviewing it, if you still have questions, feel free to contact Higher Level Legal Law Firm at 816-331-9968. We are honest and direct. And we are passionate about what we do. We are more than ready to schedule a consultation with you to discuss your unique circumstances.
Two Types of Divorce in Missouri
Divorces in Missouri can be either uncontested or contested.
Uncontested divorces mean you and your spouse are able to agree on everything, including distribution of property and child custody. Together, you file the divorce petition as co-petitioners. The court will review the petition. If approved, it becomes part of the divorce decree, otherwise known as the Judgment and Decree of Dissolution. Uncontested divorces move along much quicker than a contested divorce, and that is the benefit for couples wanting to divorce as quickly as possible. The disadvantage, however, is that many of these joint petitions are not review by attorneys, so the terms may be more unfavorable to one party.
Contested divorces mean you and your spouse cannot agree on all the issues involved in your divorce, and that means you likely have to go through the court system to obtain your divorce decree. These divorces can be more costly and take longer. The outcome is largely dependent on the experience, skill, and insight of your divorce lawyer.
The Divorce Process via the Court System in Missouri
Missouri is a “no-fault” divorce state, which basically means you can file for divorce for any reason without a waiting or separation period and without having to prove your spouse committed some kind of misconduct. You or your spouse must, however, be a resident of Missouri in order to file for divorce here.
According to A.M.S. § 452.305, to qualify as a resident for the purpose of dissolving your marriage, you must have lived here for 90 days immediately prior to filing for divorce -- unless you are a member of the U.S. military and are stationed in Missouri. If you qualify, you can begin your divorce process by filing your papers at the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Cass County. If you live in another county, you will file your petition at the circuit court with the corresponding jurisdiction.
As you likely know, filing the divorce petition begins the divorce proceedings. Below is a summary of what to expect if your divorce is contested and goes through the court system.
A divorce petition in Missouri is known as a Petition of Dissolution of Marriage. The spouse who files the petition is the petitioner unless the married couple is filing jointly, in which case they will be known as the co-petitioners. The spouse who does not initiate the dissolution of marriage but receives the papers via service is known as the respondent.
In the divorce petition, the petitioner must state the grounds for the divorce. If there is not a specific reason for the divorce, the petitioner must state something to the effect:
The marriage is irretrievably broken, and there is no reasonable likelihood the marriage can be preserved.
The respondent must file an answer within 30 days after service of the petition. The answer must admit or deny the facts stated in the petition. If the other spouse specifically denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court may continue the hearing, which could tack onto the divorce proceedings an additional 30 days to 6 months. During this time, the court may also recommend counseling. After the continued hearing, the court will make a determination whether or not the marriage is indeed irretrievably broken.
According to A.M.S. § 452.305, if the court finds that there is "a reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved," it may order a legal separation. Otherwise, the divorce moves ahead via the courts. What happens next is often dependent on a number of factors: children, debts, high assets, distribution of property, alimony, and any other issues that may not be easily determined or agreed upon.
Generally speaking, if you go to court for your divorce, you can expect certain procedures to occur, like the filing of temporary motions, discovery, attempts to settle, pre-trial conferences, and trial -- if no settlement occurs beforehand.
Temporary motions and orders are filed as a way to preserve the status quo while your case is pending. Things to consider after filing for divorce include:
- How will pay mortgage and utility bills and overall household expenses be paid? How will the divorcing couple share this responsibility?
- Who will use what specific property, e.g., home and vehicles?
- Is either spouse dependent on the other spouse? Will temporary spousal support be necessary?
- Which parent will have primary possession of the children while the divorce is pending? When will the other parent have visitation or custody?
- Who will provide health insurance while the divorce is pending? What about life insurance policies, auto insurance, and homeowners insurance?
- Is temporary child support necessary, and if so, how much?
Temporary motions can be filed to address these and other issues, and the subsequent temporary orders must be adhered to by all the parties.
This process involves verifying all the information provided in the petition and answer through requests for production of documents, interrogatories, and depositions of witnesses -- both expert and lay. All relevant documents and records must be provided by each attorney for review by each attorney. Examples of common documents requested include:
- A financial affidavit or net worth statement outlining all debts, assets, income, and property
- W-2 statements
- Recent pay stubs
- Prior year's tax return
- Documentation of any life, casualty, health, or other insurance
- Documentation on the cost of family health insurance and any children's healthcare.
It is during the discovery phase that attorneys secure appraisals for property, other assets, and any businesses. For high asset divorces, this period can be extensive, depending on the amount and types of finances involved and any accusations of hidden assets or other claims.
Throughout the divorce process, attorneys keep in mind that settlement is the most common resolution to a case. The intention is to settle before trial and avoid the unnecessary cost and emotional roller coaster. Often times, attorneys still work towards a settlement even at trial - perhaps there are some issues that are agreeable and settlement on those issues makes the trial more efficient. The sooner a settlement is reached, the less expensive the divorce is, and the sooner both parties can carry on with their new lives.
Once the discovery is complete, your attorney will file a notice for trial. The court will issue pre-trial conference or court-ordered mediation to discuss remaining issues. Pre-trial conferences give insight into the way the court may proceed with your divorce, but they also act as yet another opportunity to try to settle the divorce.
Trial will address any remaining contentious issues. Attorneys will provide opening statements. The petitioner will argue his or her case by submitting trial exhibits as evidence and calling witnesses to testify. The petitioner's witnesses are cross-examined by the defendant. Then the respondent has an opportunity to submit evidence and call witnesses to testify. The petitioner's attorney also cross-examines the respondent's witnesses. Closing arguments are made, and the court will deliberate and make its final decision.
After the judge issues the judgment for dissolution and all disputed issues are settled in this final ruling, all parties must adhere to it. At this time, too, the attorneys may help the parties with the property transfers, dissolution of business relationships, and other matters so that the parties fully comply with the final ruling.
Failure to comply can bring the parties back to court. The court can then enforce the matter through court orders and the subsequent seizure of property or income of the uncooperative spouse. The uncooperative spouse can also face fines and jail time.
Alternatives to Divorce Court in Missouri
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can be an alternative to divorcing through the Family Court system in Missouri. Though ADR is potentially useful in any divorce situation, it is particularly beneficial for divorcing couples who have children together. Parenting issues can be the cause of most contention in a divorce and can prolong the divorce process. It is generally in everyone's best interests if parents can come to an agreement together rather than battle it out via litigation.
- Mediation is generally the route parents take to resolve their parenting differences and decide upon a parenting plan. You may arrive at mediation either through your own volition or at the court's request. Your attorney can also be present with you during these meetings.
- Collaborative divorce is a growing trend in Missouri. Here, a diverse group of professionals -- attorneys, financial advisors, mental health professionals -- work together to help you resolve unsettled matters, especially as it pertains to children.
Experienced Divorce Attorney in Cass County, Missouri
If you are seeking a divorce in Cass County, Missouri, specifically in Raymore, Belton, or Harrisonville, an accomplished divorce lawyer can be the difference between a divorce that leaves you in more pain than when the proceedings started or a divorce that is fair and just for all parties to the extent possible in each unique situation. We have the experience, resources, and insight to help you through your divorce process. Contact The Higher Level Legal Law Firm today at (816) 331-9986 for a confidential, consultation on your divorce.