Every divorce case is unique, but the legal process of divorce follows a certain framework that is common among all divorce cases. If you are planning on divorcing in St. Louis, MO in the near future, it is essential to know how this legal process will likely unfold and how the unique variables in your case will influence these events.
An experienced St. Louis, MO family law attorney is the best asset for anyone preparing for divorce proceedings. Finding the right attorney can provide you with more confidence, peace of mind, and understanding of the legal matters you face. It is also wise to understand the general framework of a divorce case.
Starting the Divorce Process in St. Louis, MO
Missouri state law does not require a specific reason to file for divorce. “Irreconcilable differences” is the reason attributed to any divorce filed due to a breakdown of the marriage. It is possible to divorce due to fault, such as infidelity, abuse, criminal behavior, or any other form of spousal or domestic mistreatment. While the divorce process technically begins once one spouse has decided to divorce, the legal divorce process formally begins when a married spouse files a divorce petition with the local courthouse.
The divorce petition will typically include the filing party’s initial demands and expectations for the divorce. However, it is rare that the other spouse will agree to these terms immediately. In the event they do, this is an uncontested divorce. The divorcing spouses can expect relatively speedy proceedings to follow. However, in the vast majority of cases, the recipient of a divorce decree will not agree to some, if not all, of the petitioner’s initial terms. This is a contested divorce. From this point, the case can proceed in several ways.
Private Divorce Mediation
The most popular option for resolving divorce is mediation, a private settlement process that involves the divorcing couple, their respective attorneys, and a neutral third-party mediator. The mediator’s task is to keep negotiations focused and productive. The mediator can also clarify how state laws and relevant statutes bear on the case. The divorcing spouses may wish to have their respective attorneys attend some, all, or none of their mediation sessions.
Divorce mediation is a more relaxed process than complex litigation. These sessions will typically take place in the mediator’s office, a more informal and comfortable atmosphere than the courtroom. Some couples finish divorce mediation in a matter of a few sessions while others require months of sessions. Ultimately, most couples find that the process is straightforward and far less stressful than courtroom hearings.
Mediation allows a divorcing couple to cover many different subjects relevant to their divorce, including property division in accordance with state laws, alimony and long-term spousal support arrangements, and division of debt. While the mediation process is quite comprehensive in the scope of topics it may cover, there are some things a divorcing couple cannot settle through mediation, namely, child custody and support.
Developing a Parenting Plan in Mediation
While a divorcing couple cannot reach a legally enforceable agreement on their own when it comes to child support and custody, they can develop a proposed parenting plan and submit it to the local family court for review. A judge will review the proposed plan and ensure it aligns with the state’s interpretations of the best interests of the couple’s children. It is not uncommon for a judge to require adjustments or overhauls of proposed parenting plans that do not meet the court’s standard.
What Happens If Mediation Isn’t an Option?
Divorce mediation is highly successful because it offers an expedient, efficient, cost-effective alternative to traditional litigation. Unfortunately, divorce mediation may not be an option for every divorcing couple. Some divorcing couples have very complex marriages and difficult legal questions that require litigation to clarify. In other cases, some spouses are simply unwilling to compromise and demand litigation.
In the event a divorcing couple does not or cannot meditate, they must move to litigation. This process is similar to any other civil case, and both parties will have the opportunity to submit evidence and offer testimony. Their respective attorneys may perform cross-examination. The judge has the final say when it comes to the finalized divorce decree and the elements contained therein.
Drawbacks of Divorce Litigation
All divorcing spouses should acknowledge the value of divorce mediation, even those who are unconvinced of their ability to have a civil negotiation with their soon-to-be ex-spouse. While it can be very difficult to endure mediation sessions in some cases, the alternative is far worse. Divorce litigation is notoriously expensive, time-consuming, and very stressful. Additionally, the divorcing spouses have very little control over the final results, whereas mediation offers the opportunity for a more personalized divorce.
Divorce litigation can take several months or even years before a case reaches a conclusion. This can amount to significant legal fees for both divorcing spouses, diminishing the final results of the financial side of their divorce. Ultimately, divorce litigation should be the last option when divorce mediation is impossible or fruitless.
What Must the Divorce Process Settle?
Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the legal process of terminating a marital contract between two married people. The process must effectively extricate each of the spouses from each other’s lives completely. State law determines which elements of divorce are necessary to address before a divorce decree can be finalized.
In St. Louis, MO, a divorcing couple must reach an agreement through collaborative divorce mediation or litigation while covering multiple important issues, including property division per Missouri’s equitable distribution laws, child support and custody, and any necessary ongoing maintenance or alimony to one of the divorcing spouses.
Once the divorcing couple has moved their contested divorce to an uncontested state, either on their own with the help of a mediator or by decree of a judge, the divorce can be finalized. Missouri requires a minimum of 30 days from the date a divorce petition is filed before a judge will grant a divorce. Hiring the right attorney can make the divorce process much simpler, faster, and more cost-effective.