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Missouri Divorce Law

Divorce – State Law Summary – Missouri

Notes:  This summary is not intended to be an all-inclusive summary of the laws of dissolution of marriage in the State of  Missouri, but does contain basic and other procedures.


Grounds for divorce
Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage with no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved is the only grounds for divorce in the State of Missouri.  AMS 452-305

Residency requirements
At least one of the parties to the dissolution action must have resided in the State of Missouri for at least ninety days immediately prior to the filing of the Petition.  The action should be filed in the county where the petitioner resides.   AMS 452-300

Name of the court and title of the action/parties
An action for dissolution of marriage is filed in the Circuit Court.  The name of the action initiating the dissolution is called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, while the action granting the dissolution is referred to as the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage.  The party filing the action is called the Petitioner, while the other party to the action is the Respondent.  If the action for dissolution is filed jointly, both parties are referred to as Co-Petitioners. AMS 452-300

Legal separation
A party may file for legal separation in the State of Missouri based upon irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.  At least one of the parties must have resided within the State of Missouri for at least ninety days prior to filing the petition.   AMS 452-305

Alimony may be granted to either spouse upon a finding that the spouse seeking alimony is unable to support himself and lacks sufficient propertyto provide for his own needs; or that the spouse seeking alimony is the custodian of a child whose condition is such that it would be inappropriate for that spouse to seek outside employment.
Factors the court will consider in awarding alimony include:
1. The time necessary for the the spouse seeking support to acquire      sufficient education or training,
2. The comparative earning capacity of each spouse;
3. The standard of living established during the marriage;
4. The obligations and assets of the marriage, both separate and marital;
5. The duration of the marriage;
6. The age, physical and mental condition of the spouse seeking support;
7. The ability of the supporting spouse to meet both his needs and the needs of the spouse seeking support;
8. The conduct of the parties during the marriage;
9. And any other relevant factors.

Alimony may be awarded in a gross sum to be paid to the recipient, or may be awarded on a year-to-year basis. The award of alimony terminates upon the remarriage of the recipient spouse or that spouse’s death. The order establishing alimony must also state whether the award is modifiable or non-modifiable. If the award is modifiable, the court may modify the award only upon a showing that the circumstances have changed so substantially as to make the terms unreasonable.   AMS 452-335

Distribution of property
Missouri is an equitable distribution state. This means that the court will divide the marital property between the parties as it deems equitable and just, after setting aside to each spouse the separate property of each. Factors the court considers in dividing the property between the parties include:
1. The economic circumstances of the parties at the time of the division of property;
2. The contribution of each spouse to the marital estate;
3. The value of the non-marital property set apart to each spouse;
4. The conduct of the parties during the marriage, and;
5. Custodial arrangements for minor children. AMS 452-330

Child custody
Missouri courts will decide the issue of custody based upon the best interests of the child. A partial list of factors the court will consider in determining the best interests of the child include:
1. The wishes of the parents, the need of the child for a frequent and meaningful relationship with both parents;
2. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with both the parents and any siblings, and;
3. The wishes of the child.

Each parent is required to submit to the court a proposed parenting plan within thirty (30) days after service of process or filing of the entry of appearance, setting forth arrangements regarding such issues as custody, visitation and residential time for each child that the party believes to be in the best interests of the child.

Prior to awarding custody, the court shall first consider awarding joint physical and legal custody to both parents. If the court determines that joint physical and legal custody awarded to both parents is not in the best interests of the child, the court shall next consider joint physical custody with one party awarded sole legal custody. If that arrangement is also determined not to be in the best interests of the child, the court shall next consider joint legal custody with one party granted sole physical custody. If that arrangement is not in the best interests of the child, the court would next consider sole custody to either parent or a third-party custody arrangement.

No preference will be given to either parent in determining custody based upon the parent’s age, sex or financial status, nor because of the age or sex of the child.

When custody of a child is at issue in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage the court shall order the parties to the action to attend educational classes concerning the effects of custody and dissolution of marriage upon the children. The court may also order the parents to attend an alternative dispute resolution program to resolve any issues in dispute regarding issues of custody or visitation.

Unless a parent has been denied custody or visitation rights, both parents shall have equal access to records and information pertaining to a minor child, including but not limited to, medical dental and school records. Upon a finding that one parent has denied the other or refused to exchange information regarding the child, the court shall order the spouse who is refusing such information to immediately comply and to pay the other parent’s costs associated with obtaining the information.

The court may modify an order granting or denying visitation rights whenever modification would serve the best interests of the child, but the court shall not restrict the visitation rights of a parent unless it finds that the visitation would endanger the child’s physical health of impair his emotional development.

In order to assure compliance, the court may order parents to bring the child to a neutral location for the exchange pursuant to the visitation or custody plan or court order. In addition, the court may include in the custody or visitation order a provision for the sheriff or other law enforcement officer to assist in enforcing the custody or visitation rights of either parent.   AMS 452-(375-400)

Child support
In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the court may order either or both parties to pay a reasonable amount necessary for the support of a child of the marriage. Some of the factors the court will consider in determining the amount of child support include:
1. The financial needs and resources of the child;
2. The financial resources and needs of the parents;
3. The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not terminated;
4. The child’s physical and legal custody arrangements.

The obligation to pay child support terminates upon the death of the child, the marriage of the child, the child entering active duty in the military, the child becoming self-sufficient, the child reaches eighteen (18) years of age, or, if the child is enrolled in a secondary school program of education, when the child reaches the age of twenty-two (22) years of age.

The Missouri legislature has established child support guidelines which establish the presumptive correct amount of child support. Deviation from the guidelines require a specific finding by the court that application of the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate and such findings must be included in the judgment. A modification of a child support order may only be made upon a showing to the court of a change in circumstances that would result in a change of support from the existing amount by twenty percent (20%) or more.

From the date of filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, no party may terminate insurance coverage during the pendency of the action for any other party or child of the marriage.

The court may grant visitation rights to the grandparents of the child if such visitation would be in the best interests of the child. AMS 452-(340-345)

Name change
A spouse may petition the court requesting that upon divorce the court restore the party to the use of a former or maiden name. AMS 527-270

Inside Missouri Divorce Law