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What These Words Mean

Client - the person for whom the lawyer works
Custody - care of children
Contest - to argue
Annul - to cancel
Spouse - a husband or a wife
Dissolution - another name for divorce
Petition - a paper from the court asking for a divorce
File - to give a paper to the court
Summons - the order from the court that tells you to respond to the petition
Support - money paid to a spouse or for children

A divorce can take place if a court decides that a marriage cannot be saved. The case is decided by a judge without a jury. In Missouri, either spouse must have lived in the state for 90 days before the divorce can be filed.

What Should You Think About Before Filing for Divorce?

  • How much will it cost for the estranged spouses to live apart?
  • How much will it cost to support the children?
  • How much will the divorce cost?
  • The spouses must wait to go to court at least 30 days after filing for divorce.
  • It may take longer if they can't agree on some things.
  • A lawyer may ask them to talk with a marriage counselor to see if they can work out their problems.
  • The lawyer gets paid for trying to solve their problem, even if they don't succeed.

If the Problems Can't be Solved

If there are children, the lawyer helps his client find a plan for their custody. The lawyer decides what witnesses to use. The lawyer helps decide what property and support to ask for. The lawyer helps decide whether to make temporary arrangements for custody of the children. The lawyer decides whether to have a hearing on these things with a judge.

Custody of Children

The judge will be more concerned about the children than about the adults. Missouri law says that children cannot be taken out of the state or from the parent who has had the custody of them until after the case is decided.

The judge will think about:

  • the wishes of each parent
  • the wishes of the children
  • where the children will get along better
  • the best interests of the child

Usually the parent who does not have primary custody is expected to support the children. The parent who is to support the children must sign a promise of the amount he or she will pay. The parent who has custody of the children cannot move them out of the state for more than 90 days without the consent of the court or written consent of the other parent.

What is Joint Custody?

It is a plan in which parents get court permission to share the decision-making responsibilities and sometimes also share the physical custody of the children. One parent will usually still have a duty to support the children.


Before the judge decides how much support is needed for either spouse, they'll think about: how long the couple has been married; the ages of each spouse; their health; their work and what they earn; and what money or property they have. (This was formerly known as alimony.)

How is the Property Divided?

The judge thinks about: how to divide the property fairly; how much each spouse has helped to get the property; and what the spouse who has custody of the children will need to give them a good home.

The parties may write an agreement on their support and the support and custody of the children, and an agreement about allowing the children to visit the other parent. The judge must approve this agreement.

What is Dissolution?

It is another name for divorce. It is a legal ending of the marriage, so that both spouses become single again. Neither spouse may marry within 40 days after the divorce because the court may change the decision. Lawyers may ask that their client's name be changed back to what it is prior to the marriage.

Does Missouri Have a No-Fault Divorce Law?

Yes and no. Generally, one person doesn't have to prove that the other one is at fault in order to get a divorce. But sometimes fault must be proven to help the court decide child custody, support or who gets property.

What is Annulment?

A decision by the court that the marriage was not legal from the beginning.

If Your Spouse Files for a Divorce

You will get a summons and a petition. You may do nothing, but then the judge decides, and you may not get your say in what happens. Your lawyer may file an answer for you within 30 days after you receive the summons. You may contest the divorce, custody, child support or how the property is to be divided.

What Will a Lawyer Charge?

It depends on how much time is spent working with you. Ask the lawyer about fees the first time you meet. Ask about court costs in your county. You will have to pay your lawyer's fee regardless of the result.


For Legal Advice, See Your Lawyer

If you need help finding a lawyer, call The Missouri Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 573/636-3635.

In St. Louis, call
In Kansas City, call
In Springfield, call


The Missouri Bar, P.O. Box 119, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0119


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