Now, there certainly is a technical legal requirement that the petitioner demonstrate irretrievable breakdown of the marriage to be granted a divorce in Missouri. But in the thousands of divorce cases I have handled, I've never encountered a party or attorney who made a serious attempt to defend a divorce case based on a lack of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The law may say otherwise, but for practical purposes you do not have to prove fault on the part of your spouse to get a contested divorce in Missouri.
After a petition for divorce is filed with the court, the non-filing spouse must be formally "served" with a summons by a sheriff or process server. Following service of process, the non-filing spouse has 30 days to file a written answer to the petition. In every case - whether contested divorce or non-contested divorce - a minimum of 30 days must elapse before the court may grant a dissolution (divorce).
If the parties have children, each party must submit, either separately or, if they can come to an agreement, jointly, a proposed parenting plan. A parenting plan is a document that describes in detail how issues concerning the children (such as custody, visitation, holidays and vacations, transportation, child support, health insurance and medical expenses) will be addressed.
Court rules also require each parent to attend a parenting class. The purpose of the class is to make sure each parent is aware of the trauma children experience as a result of divorce, and to give parents tools to help ease their children's emotional pain.
If there are contested issues between the parties, there may be a period of discovery. Discovery is a general term that refers to the various tools a lawyer can use to make the opposing party and third parties answer questions under oath, or produce documents in their possession. A common use of discovery in divorce cases is to obtain complete financial disclosure if one spouse believes the other has hidden money or assets.
The vast majority of divorce cases are settled rather than decided by a judge. Settlement allows the parties to control the outcome of their case, and avoid the extra expense that necessarily accompanies a fully contested case. Even if a settlement is not ultimately reached, there will be some negotiations in virtually every case, and the parties may be required by the court to attempt mediation. Mediation is a settlement negotiation process where a neutral third party attempts to formulate a viable resolution of the case, and persuade the parties to agree to compromise.
In a typical case, a non-contested hearing or contested trial is held six months to a year after the case is filed. A marriage is only officially ended after a judge has heard evidence and signed a written decree of dissolution.
If one side denies that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then the party seeking the divorce must demonstrate specific reasons why the marriage should be dissolved, such as:
(a) that the responding spouse committed adultery
(b) that the responding spouse has behaved in such a way that the filing spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her
(c) that the responding spouse abandoned the filing spouse for a period of six months
(d) that the parties have voluntarily separated, by mutual agreement, for a period of one year, or
(e) that more than two years have elapsed since the filing spouse left the responding spouse.
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For a Missouri court to have authority to grant a divorce, either the wife or the husband must have lived in the State of Missouri for at least ninety days.
If both parties agree that the marriage is irretrievably broken, then the court will grant the divorce. The vast majority of divorces in Missouri are granted on the ground that the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Any young attorney with a little determination and intelligence can memorize and understand the law. But some things have to be learned by practice and experience. For example, I put the following useful nugget of legal information on my website when I began practicing divorce law more than a decade ago.
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