A divorce proceeding begins when one spouse files a petition with the court to dissolve the marriage of the parties. Missouri is considered a no fault state, meaning that one of the parties must not have committed a bad act in order for the marriage to be dissolved. The parties must have an irretrievably broken marriage and have no way of working their differences out so that the marriage can be saved.

In a divorce all property acquired during the marriage and separate property of the parties will be divided. Separate property is property that was acquired by a spouse prior to the marriage or inherited and has been maintained as separate property. Each party is able to keep his or her own separate property. If the parties have a dispute as to whether a certain asset is separate property, the judge will make a determination based upon the facts presented at trial. When dividing marital property, the judge looks at many factors. These factors include the parties’ financial status, which party contributed to the acquisition of the property, the value of the asset, whether any pre or post nuptial agreements were made by the parties, and whether the asset is needed to maintain and support the minor children. A determination as to how to divide the debts incurred during the marriage must be made. If an asset is encumbered by a secured debt, the value of the asset is determined with the secured debt in mind.

For example, the parties own a home valued at $200,000.00. The home mortgage has an outstanding balance of $100,000.00. The equity of the home is $100,000.000 (the value of the home minus the outstanding balance of the mortgage). The judge must determine what should happen to the house and what to do about the mortgage. The judge could order the sale of the home and the debt to be divided equally, or award the home to one of the parties and order that the party that was awarded the home to refinance the home to give the other party his or her share of the equity, or the judge could award the home to one party and order refinance of the loan so that the other party is no longer personally liable for the debt but not give the other party a share of the equity because other property was awarded to him/her instead of the home equity.

Income earned during the marriage is considered marital property. All contributions to retirement plans during the marriage are considered marital property and must be divided. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is the mechanism that divides a retirement plan properly upon the parties’ eligibility for retirement benefits.

In a divorce one of the parties may request spousal support. Missouri judges are guided by state law that provides a number of factors to consider while determining spousal support. These factors include the length of the marriage, the ability of the requesting spouse to support himself or herself, the employment and education history of the requesting party, the distribution of the marital assets, and the ability of the other spouse to pay.