Divorcing couples often come to terms with their situation and resolve their situation by agreement or settlement. Many spouses, however, settle only after a lengthy court process that can take months, if not years to resolve. An uncontested divorce allows spouses to agree early and save themselves from seemingly endless litigation.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and Missouri uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in Missouri Defined
While Missouri does not have a separate process available to couples seeking an uncontested divorce, Missouri does encourage divorce by agreement. A divorce by agreement is similar to uncontested divorce in many other states in that the spouses can file a pre-arranged divorce agreement with the court that outlines the terms of the divorce. Missouri courts will accept any terms the spouses agree to so long as the terms are fundamentally fair and not unconscionable.
Uncontested divorce in Missouri is thus a product of agreement between spouses. While divorce necessarily involves disagreement and infighting, reaching an early agreement on divorce terms saves both spouses from a lengthy and messy process. Almost all divorce lawsuits result in settlement eventually. Spouses who start by agreeing from the beginning, however, save considerable time and money.
Requirements for Seeking a Missouri Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in Missouri, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced Missouri divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first two requirements for seeking a Missouri uncontested divorce are residence and grounds. Satisfying both of these requirements is generally simple. To satisfy the residence requirement, at least one of the parties must have been a resident of Missouri for at least 90 days immediately preceding the filing of the dissolution petition.1 Proving that the grounds for divorce exist is similarly straightforward. Missouri is a no-fault divorce state, which means that if the marriage is irretrievably broken (is it unlikely that the marriage can be preserved?), then the couple can seek a divorce.2
The more important requirement for seeking an uncontested divorce is agreement between the spouses. This is usually accomplished by the creation of a legally-binding separation agreement. Such agreements are discussed in more detail below.
On Spousal Support and Separation Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A separation agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed separation agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any separation agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
Under Missouri law, a complete separation agreement must address all of the following issues in the divorce:
- A parenting plan for minor children;
- Child custody and visitation rights;
- Child support;
- Maintenance of either spouse (also known as spousal support);
- Disposition of property (division of personal and real property such as the marital residence as well as assignment of any marital debts).
If a minor child was born of the marriage, the court will check the spouses’ provision of child support under the agreement against the spouses’ finances to see if the agreement is fair to the child.
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in Missouri
Once you and your spouse have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is as follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- If you are proceeding without the assistance of an attorney, the first step is to sit down with your spouse and draft a separation agreement as explained above.
- Next, the filing spouse should prepare the divorce paperwork. For couples getting a divorce without the help of an attorney, the Missouri Courts Judicial Branch website provides sample forms for couples to use.3
- The filing spouse must then determine which court is the appropriate court in which to file the divorce paperwork. The divorce petition should be filed in the county in which either spouse meets the residency requirements.
- The filing spouse should then file a petition for dissolution of marriage, which needs to be signed and notarized, and the filing fee, which can be waived if you cannot afford to pay the filing fee. Along with the petition for dissolution of marriage, the filing spouse usually must also file an 'Income and Expense Statement,' a 'Statement of Property and Debt,' a 'Parenting Plan' if children are involved, a 'Filing Information Sheet,' a 'Certificate of Dissolution,' and a proposed 'Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.'
- Once the petition is filed, the filing spouse must initiate service of process. Either the filing spouse should arrange service through either the sheriff of the court or a professional process server, or the responding spouse should sign and notarize a waiver of personal service.
- Once the non-filing spouse receives service, he or she must file an answer within thirty days. The answer should admit the contents of the petition and agree to the terms of the separation agreement.
- Once all the paperwork has been filed, the spouses should check with the court regarding scheduling a hearing date. At the hearing, the judge will review and approve your separation agreement and sign the dissolution judgment. Your divorce becomes final 30 days after the judge signs the dissolution judgment.
For more information about divorce in Missouri, visit the Missouri Courts Judicial Branch website.4
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- § 452.305 R.S.Mo.