A Summary of Missouri Divorce Laws

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Grounds for Divorce Under Missouri Divorce Laws

Divorce Laws Specifically for the State of Missouri

While there are many reasons to get divorced, there is only one possible ground for divorce in the State of Missouri and that is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage with no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.

Residency Requirements

If you are going to get divorced in the State of Missouri, either you or your wife (or both of you) must be a resident of the “Show Me State” and must have resided in the state for at least 90 days immediately prior to the filing of the Petition. The action should be filed in the county where the petitioner resides. Whoever is filing for divorce should do so in their county of residence.

Name of the Court and Title of the Action/Parties

Here are a few important names for you to make note of. First is the Circuit Court, where the petition for dissolution of marriage is filed. The first action is the one that starts it all and it is called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage The final action is called the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage. Depending on which one of you is filing the divorce, you are either called the Petitioner (the spouse who files for divorce) or the Respondent (the one who gets served). Or, if you are filing together, both of you are called Co-Petitioners.

Legal Separation

If you are not yet ready to take the big step towards divorce, you have another option. Missouri divorce laws state that you may file for a legal separation based upon irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Many of the rules are the same (regarding alimony, division of property, child custody and support, etc.). One or both of you must have resided within the State of Missouri for at least ninety days prior to filing this petition. Keep in mind that you will have to go through all this again if/when you decide to get divorced in the future. If you are having doubts about ending your marriage, you may want to try counseling and perhaps a trial separation before making any legally binding decisions. Good luck.


Missouri divorce laws state the court may grant alimony to either one of you depending on a finding that the spouse seeking alimony is unable to support him or herself and lacks sufficient property to provide for his/her 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.

The court will consider the following factors in determining the amount of alimony to be paid:

  • The time necessary for the spouse seeking support to acquire sufficient education or training
  • The comparative earning capacity of each spouse
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The obligations and assets of the marriage, both separate and marital
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age, physical and mental condition of the spouse seeking support
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to meet both his needs and the needs of the spouse seeking support
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • 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. 

Distribution of Property

Missouri divorce laws call for an equitable distribution of assets. This means that the court will divide the marital property between the parties as it deems equitable and fair, after setting aside for each spouse the separate property of each. What this means is that you get to keep what belongs to you (such as any property you owned prior to the marriage) and all shared property will be divided equally between you and your ex-wife. The court will consider the following factors in dividing the property between you:

  • The economic circumstances of the parties at the time of the division of property
  • The contribution of each spouse to the marital estate
  • The value of the non-marital property set apart to each spouse
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage
  • Custodial arrangements for minor children

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:

  • The wishes of the parents, the need of the child for a frequent and meaningful relationship with both parents
  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with both the parents and any siblings
  • The wishes of the child

Both of you are 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 you believe to be in the best interests of the child or children.

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 parents 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 or 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. 

Child Support

As with every other issues previously discussed, the court will decide the matter of child support. The court may order either or both parties to pay a reasonable amount necessary to support their child or children. Some of the factors the court will consider in determining the amount of child support include:

  • The financial needs and resources of the child
  • The financial resources and needs of the parents
  • The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not terminated
  • The child’s physical and legal custody arrangements

Legally, your obligation to pay child support shall end 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 reaching 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.

You may also be required to provide health insurance for your child. In addition. you are also obligated to continue paying for health insurance for your children and spouse from the time of filing until the divorce is final if you were already paying for it prior to this (meaning you cannot cancel health insurance for your children and spouse during the divorce proceedings).

Name Change

Either spouse may request to have their former or maiden name restored and this request will be granted by the court upon the divorce.


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