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The country's Census Bureau reveals that both marriage and divorce rates have declined in the past decade. However, situations vary per state. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that in 2021, Missouri had a marriage rate of 6% per 1,000 people, which jumped from 5.6% in the previous year. In the same year, the state had a 2.9% divorce rate per 1,000 people, which was an increase from the 2.7% figure in 2020. Additionally, an MU Extension article shows that three of five marriages in Missouri end in divorce.

People who have undergone divorce, whether contested or uncontested, are well aware of its impact on one’s emotional and physical well-being, as well as on finances. Divorce can be a complex legal matter, especially if it involves children and high-value assets.

If irreconcilable differences have damaged your marriage and you feel that divorce is the way to go, this article provides valuable information regarding Missouri's legislation on the matter. It also includes some resources to help you navigate the legal system as you try to reach the end goal of your divorce being granted so you can move on with your life.

Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Missouri

For couples in Missouri who cannot fix their relationship, legal remedies such as divorce, annulment, and legal separation are available. Divorce is the legal process of dissolving the marital union, including rights and obligations, between a husband and wife. It can be contested or uncontested. 

On the other hand, annulment is a civil court process (with no time limit) that nullifies prohibited marriages, making them seem like they never existed. Prohibited marriages include the following:

  • Bigamous marriages;

  • Marriages between two closely related family members;

  • Marriages with underage individuals;

  • Marriages created through fraud and duress;

  • Marriages with people incapable of consenting to the union because of their mental incompetence.

Spouses going through marital conflicts may also enter into a short- or long-term separation agreement, which can be their stepping stone to obtaining a divorce. They can also seek assistance from the court to process a legal separation order. The order will not dissolve or annul their marriage but will allow both parties to contemplate their marriage and resolve their differences. However, if 90 days have passed since the legal separation order was released and no reconciliation has been achieved, you may ask a judge to convert it into a divorce decree. 

Is Missouri a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

Yes, Missouri will only allow a divorce to proceed if the petitioner asserts that their marriage is "irretrievably broken" or, in simpler terms, cannot be fixed. This makes the state a no-fault divorce jurisdiction. Under the law, courts will not consider a respondent's misconduct when deciding on a divorce case. If the spouse, however, denies the claims in the divorce petition, the petitioner will be required to prove any of the following:

  • The respondent committed adultery;

  • The respondent's behavior makes it unreasonable to still live together;

  • The respondent abandoned the petitioner for a minimum of six months;

  • The respondent and petitioner lived separately for one year before the divorce was filed or for two years if no separation agreement was reached.

How to File for Divorce in Missouri

If your marriage becomes irreparably broken, you might consider filing for divorce. It is important to know the different aspects of Missouri's divorce legislation. In this section, you will learn the steps to filing for divorce.

1. Initiating the Divorce Process

You must meet the state's residency requirement before you can file for divorce in Missouri. Either you or your spouse should have resided in Missouri for 90 days. If you are a military member stationed in the state, you also qualify for the 90-day requirement. You must then ensure you have grounds to file for divorce. When you have fulfilled the residency requirements and identified your legal grounds, you may now prepare the required paperwork.

2. Preparing the Divorce Petition

You, as the petitioner, must fill out and sign the necessary forms for your divorce petition. These documents may include the following:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (CAFC001)

  • Confidential Case Filing Information Sheet (Form FI-10)

  • Parenting Plan and Form 14 Child Support Calculation (if minor children are involved)

  • State of Income and Expenses

  • Statement of Marital and Non-Marital Property and Debts

For additional information about the requirements to be attached when filing for divorce, you may visit the Missouri Courts website. You may also ask the court in the county where you will file the divorce if other documents for your specific situation need to be submitted.

3. Filing the Divorce Papers

Once you have completed your divorce papers (notarized if necessary), you may file your paperwork with the district court in the county where you or your spouse reside. It is ideal to keep a copy of your documents. When filing your petition, you must also pay the filing fee. In Missouri, the fee varies per county, so it is best to confirm it with the court's clerk.

Meanwhile, if you are planning to represent yourself in court, you must complete the Litigant Awareness Program and submit the certificate of completion to the court, along with the other documents. 

4. Serving and Waiting for a Response to the Divorce Petition

If you have submitted a copy of your spouse's Respondent's Answer to Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, together with your petition and other required documents, you may skip this step, making the process quicker to finalize. If you have not asked your husband or wife to complete the form, you must serve them with the divorce papers. The table below outlines the different methods of delivering divorce papers to your soon-to-be ex-spouse.

Way of Serving Divorce Papers

What Happens

Waiver of Personal Service

The respondent will cooperate and sign an Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service form. It should be notarized before being filed with the court.

Personal Service

Respondent Is in the State

The petitioner will arrange for a court officer or sheriff to hand-deliver the papers to the respondent.

Respondent Is out of State

The petitioner will ask the court clerk to deliver the divorce papers by mail.

Respondent Is Difficult to Locate

The petitioner will request the court appoint a private or special process service.

Service by Publication

The petitioner will ask the court to grant the publication of the notice in a newspaper.

Once the respondent receives the divorce paperwork or summons, they have 30 days to file an answer. They will be required to attach their Proposed Separation Agreement and Statement of Property and Debt. However, if the respondent does not respond within the deadline, the judge handling the case may proceed with a default divorce, which grants all requests in the petitioner's divorce petition.  

5. Completing a Parent Education Program

Divorcing parents must attend a parent or child custody education program before the divorce pushes through. They must file a certificate of completion within 45 days from the date the petition was filed or the summons was served. Ask your local court clerk for a list of the approved programs and the costs entailed. 

6. Finalizing the Divorce

Your divorce may be uncontested or contested, depending on how your spouse responds to your petition. If they admit to your petition and agree to its terms, your case won't go through a trial, and a judge may sign a final divorce decree within 30 days from the filing date. The length of the waiting period may be affected by factors such as judge availability and local court backlogs. 

On the other hand, the divorce process will take longer if the respondent challenges the petition. This means the case will go to trial to reach a settlement agreement. The judge will then base their final decision on the evidence and testimonies presented by both parties. Depending on the case's complexity, the proceeding may take up to a year or more.

How Property Is Divided in a Missouri Divorce

Like most jurisdictions in the country, Missouri follows the equitable distribution principle when dividing the marital properties and debts of divorcing couples. This concept means the assets and debts will be divided in a manner that is fair for both parties. In cases where the husband and wife cannot agree on the terms, the court will determine the value of marital and nonmarital properties before distributing them. 

Missouri law divides property between divorcing spouses based on two categories: marital and nonmarital property. Marital property is everything the spouses acquire or earn during their marriage, regardless of who bought it or whose name it is in. On the other hand, non-marital property is anything the spouses owned before marriage, plus any gift or inheritance they received during the relationship. Note that non-marital assets may not be divided in a divorce or converted into marital property unless the owner specifically intended to do so.

When deciding on property division in a Missouri divorce case, a judge considers the following factors:

  • Each spouse's capacity to earn;

  • Each spouse's contribution to the acquisition and improvement of a property;

  • Each spouse's behavior during the marriage;

  • Each spouse's nonmarital property;

  • Custodial arrangements for minor children.

Missouri Divorce FAQs

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions regarding Missouri's divorce laws. You may contact a divorce attorney in your area for additional information or assistance.

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Missouri

These resources may be helpful to you when navigating the divorce process:

Missouri Legal Services

This offers legal aid programs to low-income and disadvantaged individuals and families who cannot afford a lawyer. It also runs Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Legal Aid of Southern Missouri, and Mid-Missouri Legal Services. For contact details, you may visit the website's offices page

This website was created by the Missouri Bar to provide legal services and resources to the state's low-income citizens. It also helps individuals going through divorce or family law-related matters find a lawyer to assist them in handling their cases.

Crime Victim Center

CVC is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to victims of domestic and intimate partner violence. It runs the Legal Helpline initiative, which provides victims with legal options, legal and social referrals, and county-specific step-by-step filing procedures. Victims may contact the helpline at 314-664-6699. 

Focus on Kids

This program, which is facilitated in cooperation with Missouri's circuit courts, aims to help divorcing or separating parents learn how to nurture and support their kids through the separation or divorce process. It allows parents to register for online or in-person classes

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