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Division of Property in Divorces

How is property divided in a divorce in Missouri?

One of the most exhausting aspects of a divorce is the division of property. Under Missouri divorce law, a court has the responsibility of determining the character of property owned by the parties. Property is either classified as “marital” or “nonmarital.” A Missouri court is not permitted to divide nonmarital property. Marital property, however, may be divided — and the only statutory criterion is that the court make the division after considering “all relevant factors.”  This determination by the court is crucial, as the distribution of marital property is generally a final, unmodifiable order.

What’s marital property? In Missouri, marital property is generally all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage — with a few statutory exceptions. Some of the exceptions to this general rule include, among other things, property from inheritance and property acquired during a legal separation (in my experience, legal separations seem to be uncommon). Things can get very complicated and the distinction often turns on small facts . For instance, any stock a spouse owns before a marriage is considered separate property, but the dividends it accrues during the marriage is generally considered marital.
Because parties want to avoid the court system, and because few people want the court to divide property, it is generally preferable for the parties to come together and divide the property themselves. Written antenuptial and postnuptial agreements, if valid, are an exception to the marital property rule. The parties may contract privately and decide between themselves how to treat the property. As long as the agreement meets the basic criteria of contract law, its terms are usually going to be binding on the court, which in turn must uphold and honor the contract.

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