Divorce is always trying, and even agonizing at times. In terms of legally effectuating a divorce, sometimes it is smooth and sometimes it is very difficult. Let me explain.
For a couple to be divorced in Missouri, it must be shown that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Irretrievabe breakdown is easy to prove if both spouses come to the court in agreement that the marriage has deteriorated to such a state. Things get more difficult, however, when one party says it is irretrievably broken and the other disagrees. As you can imagine, at that point evidence is generally offered to the court that the marriage is no longer viable. This is often deeply intimate and personally exhausting for all participants (not to mention it inflates court costs and attorney fees).
Things don’t end there. Now the marital property (the distinction between marital and nonmarital property is a subject for another time) has to be distributed between the two parties. If the parties can come to an agreement as to any property split and embody that in a contractual separation agreement — a court will honor such an agreement and may incorporate it into the judgment (a “decretal judgment”) so long as the agreement is “not unconscionable.” If no such agreement can be reached, a court will examine the the marital property and divide it in its own discretion, evaluating the reasonable needs of each spouse as its primary criterion.
And what if there are kids? Children (those under 18) need to be accounted for in a comprehensive parenting plan pursuant to Missouri Revised Statute 452.310. Courts review these in detail, as the welfare of minor children is a primary concern of the State of Missouri. Every time I speak to someone about the detail required in parenting plans they are inevitably amazed. The plan requires detailed visitation schedules, hours of telephone access, which parent will pay for educational/health/child care expenses, which parent will make educational or health decisions for the children, holiday schedules, tax deductions for children, life insurance coverage, dispute resolution procedures, etc. The State wants to know how you are going to account for the welfare of the children in every way, shape and form possible before it enters a divorce judgment.
Given the breadth of information required, it is important to speak with an attorney before trying to navigate through a divorce alone. There is a lot at stake.