If you are preparing to divorce, it’s essential to realize that the experience is likely to be one of the most challenging ordeals of your life. Even if your divorce seems straightforward and you are entirely convinced that it is the best decision for your situation, it can still be challenging to manage all aspects of the dissolution process. Therefore, if you are ready to divorce in St. Louis, MO, it’s important to know the various aspects of the process and the issues you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse will need to resolve. It’s common for people to have misconceptions about what the divorce process entails, and while every divorce is unique, there are a few issues that must be resolved in every divorce.
Property Division in Missouri
Every state upholds different statutes regarding divorce, and Missouri enforces an equitable distribution law regarding the division of marital property. Anything you and your spouse acquire during your marriage likely qualifies as marital property. This includes income earned by both of you, assets you both purchased, investments, and jointly owned accounts and property. It’s common for divorcing spouses to disagree on whether certain assets qualify as marital property or separate property. Therefore, every asset and debt a couple controls must be accurately characterized and appraised.
Property division is often one of the most contentious issues addressed during divorce proceedings. First, both couples must complete a financial disclosure statement that accurately lists all their separate and marital property. If either spouse knowingly attempts to hide assets during financial disclosure, their activities will very likely be revealed eventually, and they will face significant penalties, including contempt of court or even criminal fraud charges. In addition, each spouse has the right to claim separate property, which includes anything they owned before marriage, inheritance, and gifts.
Child Custody and Child Support
If you have children, your child custody determination is the most important part of your divorce and is likely to be the most emotionally stressful. As long as both parents are proven to be fit parents, both have the right to seek custody. While it’s possible to resolve some issues in a divorce privately through collaborative divorce or mediation, a judge must decide on child custody and child support. Most family court judges in Missouri will strive to disrupt a child’s life as little as possible and provide them with as much time with each parent as possible.
When parents share custody, one parent is likely to obtain a more significant share of custody rights than the other. It’s also likely that the parents make different amounts of income, and the judge must assess these and numerous other factors to reach a reasonable determination on child custody. One parent will pay child support to the other based on the differences in income between the parents and each parent’s share of physical custody. In most cases, the lower-earning parent will pay child support to the other parent unless the higher-earning parent obtains a significantly larger share of custody. Your divorce attorney can help you make a compelling case for custody and ensure your child support terms accurately reflect you and your co-parent’s respective financial situations.
In most equitable distribution states, judges who preside over divorce cases tend to make property division determinations that eliminate the need for ongoing spousal support arrangements. However, spousal support can come into play in a divorce if one spouse is financially dependent on the other or cannot support themselves due to disability. The purpose of spousal support, also known as alimony, is to provide the recipient with the financial support they need to maintain a standard of living similar to what they had while married.
Every spousal support arrangement will include a set of terms that dictate how long payments continue, how much the paying spouse must pay each month, and the terminating actions that will nullify the agreement. For example, if the alimony recipient starts living with a new partner, this will likely cancel the paying spouse’s alimony obligation. Alimony is meant to cover basic living expenses, and cohabitation with a new partner would inherently reduce the recipient’s living expenses.
If you expect to pay alimony after your divorce, it may be wise to consider seeking a property division determination that provides your soon-to-be ex-spouse with a more significant share of marital property. If you expect to receive alimony, negotiating a larger property division settlement may be preferable to you as well. This could offset any need for ongoing support and reduce the chances of needing to endure further family court proceedings in the future. Of course, it’s possible to ask a judge to consider these preferences, but you may have additional options beyond litigation when it comes to resolving your divorce.
How Do I Resolve My Divorce?
Your divorce may entail unique issues, and it’s possible to settle the issue outside of the courtroom as long as both you and your spouse are willing to try alternative dispute resolution. For example, collaborative divorce is essentially a private settlement negotiation process for divorce, and mediation is very similar but unfolds under the direction of a neutral mediator. The divorcing spouses and their respective attorneys meet to negotiate divorce terms in either method.
Alternative dispute resolution can allow you and your spouse to maintain a greater level of control over the outcome of your divorce and generate more favorable divorce terms than what you could expect from a judge. For example, you cannot resolve child custody or child support through private settlement, but you can develop a proposal for a parenting plan that you can submit to a judge for approval. Ultimately, even if you think you and your spouse cannot agree on anything, it is always worth attempting alternative dispute resolution.
It’s natural to have many doubts and concerns about an impending divorce, and it can feel overwhelming when it’s time to prepare for the divorce proceedings ahead of you. However, the right attorney can be a tremendous asset in this situation, helping you make informed decisions about each phase of your divorce. If you need legal representation for your divorce, contact an experienced St. Louis divorce attorney as soon as possible to schedule a consultation.