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I Am Getting Divorced. Do I Need an Attorney?


You will find that hiring an attorney to help you with your divorce is money well spent. An attorney will advise you on the settlement of property letting you know how much of the assets you can expect and what you are entitled to legally receive in your divorce settlement. An attorney will provide reasonable expectations regarding a fair and equitable settlement and help you get what you are entitled to receive.


What Are the Legal Grounds for Divorce in Missouri?


Missouri has limited "no-fault" divorce, making it unnecessary to prove cruelty, adultery, etc., to obtain a dissolution. The usual ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences with your spouse. In a few cases, it may be appropriate to allege other grounds.


Who Determines How Assets Are Divided in a Divorce?


The parties in a divorce can agree on how the assets that they own are to be divided. But ultimately if the parties are unable to agree the Judge will decide on a division of assets at trial.


What Is Joint Custody?


"Joint legal custody" means that the parents share the decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child, and, unless allocated, apportioned, or decreed, the parents shall confer with one another in the exercise of decision-making rights, responsibilities, and authority;

"Joint physical custody" means an order awarding each of the parents significant, but not necessarily equal, periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents;

"Third-party custody" means a third party designated as a legal and physical custodian of the minor children when it is not in the best interest of the minor children to reside with either of the parents.

The court shall determine custody in accordance with the best interests of the child. The court shall consider all relevant factors including:

  1. The wishes of the child's parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties;

  2. The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child;

  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests;

  4. Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent;

  5. The child's adjustment to the child's home, school, and community;

  6. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm;

  7. The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child; and

  8. The wishes of a child as to the child's custodian.

The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, RSMo, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.

In any court proceedings relating to custody of a child, the court shall not award custody or unsupervised visitation of a child to a parent if such parent or any person residing with a such parent has been found guilty of, or pled guilty to, any of violent offenses or sexual offenses when a child was the victim:

The general assembly has found and declared that it is the public policy of this state that frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage is in the best interest of the child, except for cases where the court specifically finds that such contact is not in the best interest of the child and that it is the public policy of this state to encourage parents to participate in decisions affecting the health, education, and welfare of their children, and to resolve disputes involving their children amicably through alternative dispute resolution. In order to effectuate these policies, the court shall determine the custody arrangement which will best assure both parents participate in such decisions and have frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with their children so long as it is in the best interests of the child.


How Is Child Support Determined in a Divorce or Child Support Case?


The Missouri Supreme Court put forward what is known as "Form 14" for determining child support obligations. Form 14 takes into account such factors as each parent's gross monthly income, the number of children needing support, child care costs, health care costs, and the amount of visitation taken by both parties.


What Happens If a Parent Does Not Pay Court-Ordered Child Support?


Missouri child support enforcement actions are triggered by the failure of the paying parent to comply with a formal court order for child support. Informal agreements between parents are not enforceable.

A child support order may be enforced by the Missouri Family Support Division - Child Support Enforcement [FSD], an agency established specifically to assist parents and guardians in obtaining and enforcing child support orders, or by the courts, which retain independent judicial authority to enforce child support orders. FSD uses an administrative process to enforce child support obligations.

Missouri child support enforcement often involves wage withholding, also called wage garnishment. Wage withholding involves making the paying parent's employer withhold a portion of their wages to be paid to the receiving parent. Wage withholding is available without notice to the party paying support.

The FSD and the family court may pursue any of the following enforcement measures:

  • Tax return, unemployment, and lottery winnings withholding;

  • Real estate and property liens and attachments;

  • Credit bureau reporting; or

  • Suspension of drivers and any kind of professional license.

There are also two kinds of prosecutions that can take place:

  • Civil Contempt

  • Criminal Charges


Do Grandparents Have Visitation Rights to Their Grandchildren?


According to Missouri's family laws, the court may grant grandparent visitation under very limited circumstances. The first scenario arises when the parents of a child are filing for divorce. The grandparents can file a motion to intervene so that they can request reasonable visitation. If a decree has already been ordered and the grandparent has been denied visitation, he or she can ask to modify the decree.

Another time when a grandparent can ask for reasonable visitation is when the parent of a child is deceased and the surviving parent denies the decedent's parent reasonable visitation with the child.
A grandparent can also ask for reasonable visitation if the child resided with the grandparent for a minimum of six months within the two years from the filing of the petition. Finally, if a grandparent has been denied visitation with the child for at least 90 days, he or she can request visitation. In any case, grandparents cannot petition for visitation if the parents of the child are legally married together and continue to reside with each other.

As with other decisions related to the child, the legal standard that the court considers is whether grandparent visitation would be in the best interest of the child. In contrast, the court considers whether visitation would pose a threat to the child's physical health or his or her emotional development. The court will only grant visitation rights if the court determines that it is in the best interest of the child. The court can issue the visitation that it finds appropriate and can also impose reasonable conditions or restrictions on the visitation.


How Do Courts Determine Who Gets Custody of Children in a Divorce?


If you're going through a divorce in Missouri and you have minor children, you will need to understand the state's custody laws. A family court in Missouri will use several factors to determine whether one or both partners win custody.

State courts base custody on the best interests of the child involved and Missouri is no exception. A judge must consider several best interest factors when making a decision. A family court in Missouri will not show preference toward either parent based on gender, financial status, age, or the sex of the child. That's good news for parents who weren't necessarily the breadwinners of the family or men who fear that the courts will be biased toward them and automatically assume the mother is the better parent.

Factors included in Missouri's best interests standards include:

  • Each parent's wishes and a proposed parenting plan submitted by the parents, detailing when and how they want to divide time with their child, including important dates and events like holidays and vacations

  • The child's need for frequent and meaningful contact with both parents, and each parent's willingness to be responsible for the child's needs

  • The child's wishes, if he's considered old enough - usually at least eight years old, but more often age 12 and up

  • Either parent's intention to relocate with the child

  • The child's relationship with his parents, siblings, and extended family members

  • Each parent's willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and the child's other parent

  • The child's adjustment to home, school, and community

  • Any history of abuse

  • The mental and physical health of all parties involved

Missouri courts will consider the following custody arrangements:

  • Joint physical custody and joint legal custody to both parents

  • Joint physical custody to both parents and sole legal custody to one parent

  • Joint legal custody to both parents with sole physical custody to one parent

  • Sole custody to either parent

  • Third-party custody or visitation

Physical custody relates to which parent the child resides with most of the time. Joint physical custody is rarely a 50/50 time split, but it affords both parents considerable time with the child, more than if one of them merely had parenting time once a week or so.

Legal custody involves who makes major decisions on behalf of the child, not to be confused with day-to-day decisions like what he eats for dinner and what time he goes to bed. Those decisions fall on the parent with whom he is living at that particular time.

A court in Missouri encourages frequent and continuous contact between the child and both parents as long as it serves the best interests of the child.