FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT DISSOLUTIONS OF MARRIAGE (DIVORCE)
• 1. What is a dissolution of marriage?
Missouri uses the term "dissolution of marriage" instead of "divorce".
• 2. What are the grounds for dissolution in Missouri?
Missouri has limited "no fault" divorce, making it unnecessary to prove cruelty, adultery, etc., to obtain a dissolution. The usual ground is irreconcilable differences with your spouse. In a few cases it may be appropriate to allege other grounds. Additionally, the court can consider fault in deciding child custody, support or division of property.
• 3. How long must I be a resident of Missouri to get a dissolution?
You or your spouse must have been a resident of Missouri for the 90 days immediately preceding filing the petition for a dissolution.
• 4. Is there a waiting period to get the dissolution?
No dissolution can be granted until at least 30 days after a Petition for Dissolution has been filed. Generally, however, you must wait 30 days from the date the other spouse officially receives a copy of the petition.
• 5. Can we both use one lawyer?
A lawyer cannot ethically represent competing interests. A dissolution necessarily involves some matters which benefit one spouse and are a detriment to the other. Therefore, a lawyer can only represent one person in a dissolution.
• 6. What does "uncontested" dissolution mean?
An "uncontested" dissolution is when both spouses agree to all aspects of custody, visitation, support, division of property, debt payment and attorney fees. If one spouse disputes any of these matters and an agreement is not eventually reached, a trial will be necessary.
• 7. When is the dissolution final?
A dissolution is normally final 30 days after the date on which the Judgment of Dissolution is signed by the Judge.
• 8. What about dating while the dissolution is pending?
You are married until your marriage is dissolved by the judge. You may seriously jeopardize your case be even "seeing" another man or woman. We recommend you refrain from dating.
• 9. What if my spouse and I agree how we want to divide our assets?
Most dissolutions are settled, not tried by a judge. This means the parties eventually reach an agreement which the attorney drafts into what is called a Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement. The judge must find that the agreement is "not unconscionable" which means not grossly unfair.
• 10. What is a Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement?
In most dissolutions, the parties reach an agreement on the important issues regarding their children. The Marital Settlement and Separation Agreement typically has provisions regarding the children such as custody, time sharing arrangements, health insurance, medical expenses, life insurance and possibly income tax exemptions and educational expenses. If the parties don't agree, a judge decides the issues often after required mediation on the custody and time sharing issues.
• 11. What is a Parenting Plan?
In order to encourage parents to think about the issues involving their children as early in the divorce process as possible, the law now requires that each party file a "Parenting Plan". At the time of the filing of their first pleading, initially each party proposes how he or she feels that major issues should be handled. A typical Parenting Plan includes provisions regarding custody, visitation, holidays and summer vacations, pick-up and delivery, moving away, child support and payment of other expenses, health insurance and mediation. During the divorce process the final terms of a Parenting Plan are negotiated.
• 12. What should I tell the children about the divorce?
Marital problems are extremely difficult for the children. Do yourself and your children a favor by not "poisoning the minds" of your children. Do not dwell on your spouse's faults! Realize from the beginning that children and/or visitation privileges are not tools for bargaining in a dissolution case. DON'T USE THEM AS THREATS!! There are many good books at the library and in book stores that will help you discuss your divorce with your children.
• 13. Should we get counseling?
Good counselors are available. We can recommend one to you. Whether the counseling helps keep the marriage together or helps you, your spouse and your children to get through a dissolution with the least trauma, it is generally worth the effort.
• 14. Will I have to attend Parenting Classes?
Local Court Rules require that in all cases where custody or visitation is to be dealt with that both parents attend a parenting class. The title of the class varies from county to county but the purpose of the program is to help make parents aware of the trauma that children go through as a result of their divorce and to provide parents guidelines for easing the hurt to their children.
• 15. Can I move the children away?
You normally cannot move the children once the dissolution is filed without a Court order. The law sets forth very specific steps that you must take in order to move the children to a new location. If you do not follow these steps you may jeopardize your case for child custody. While Missouri law used to address only moving children out of state, it now applies to any move.
GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS DURING SEPARATION OR DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS
The following suggestions are made to help you and your children in this time of mental and emotional stress:
• 1. Think first of your children's present and future emotional and mental well-being before acting. This will be difficult, because of your own feelings, needs and emotions, by try, try, try!
• 2. Maintain your own composure and good emotional balance as much as possible, and in talking to yourself, verbally and in your thoughts, remember it is not the end of the world. Laugh when you can and try to keep a sense of humor. What your children see in your attitude is to some measure reflected in theirs.
• 3. Allow yourself and your children time for readjustment. Convalescence from an emotional operation, such as dissolution of marriage, is essential.
• 4. Remember the best parts of your marriage. Share them with your children and use them constructively.
• 5. Assure your children that they are not to blame for the breakup and that they are not being rejected or abandoned. Children, especially the young ones, often mistakenly feel they have done something wrong and believe that the problems in the family are the result of their own misdeeds. Small children may feel that some action or secret wish of theirs has caused the trouble between their parents. Explain to them that there are other children whose parents have been divorced and that they are not going to lose their mom or dad.
• 6. Continuing anger or bitterness toward your former partner can injure your children far more than the dissolution itself. The feelings you show are more important than the words you use.
• 7. Refrain from voicing criticism of the other parent. It is difficult, but absolutely necessary. For the child's healthy development, it is important for him or her to respect both parents.
• 8. Do not force or encourage your children to take sides. To do so encourages frustration, guilt, and resentment.
• 9. Try not to upset the children's routine too abruptly. Children need a sense of continuity and it is disturbing to them if they must cope with too many changes all at once.
• 10. Do not overlook the fact that you are only human and admit it. You will not be able to make a 100 percent score on being a perfect parent (no one ever does in good or bad times). When you fail in your attempts, acknowledge it, and resolve to attempt to improve day by day.
• 11. Under Missouri law, you will be required to attend a parenting class as part of your dissolution or child custody case. The sooner you do this, the better for you and your children. In Buchanan and Andrew Counties this class is called "Families in Transition" or "FIT". Please contact the Family Guidance Center in St. Joseph, Missouri, at (816) 676-7101 or (816) 364-1501 to obtain information and pre-register.
Our St. Joseph law office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. We also make ourselves available to clients on weekends and evenings by appointment as well.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with an experienced St. Joseph criminal defense and family law attorney, please contact us at 816-364-3743.