What is the Divorce Process?
Divorce, or dissolution, in Missouri starts by one party filing a Petition for Dissolution. Along with the petition, your attorney will draft a Certificate of Dissolution, which is sent to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics (they keep track of who is married and who is not). Once the petition is completed, the other party must be served through one of three methods: 1. A process server or sheriff's deputy walks up to the person and hands them the petition and any other required forms which vary by county. 2. The party signs a Waiver of Service in the presence of a notary, which saves them from having to be handed the documents (and saves the Petitioner $40.00 to $100.00 by not having to pay a process server). 3. If the opposing party can not be located after a genuine effort by the Petitioner, they can be served through publication. This is where you pay for a few sentences in the local newspaper to let the person know they are being sued for divorce.
After service, the other party, or Respondent, has 30 days to file an answer. It is important to note here that the State of Missouri will not accept a divorce without a thirty day waiting period. Dissolution judgments that are signed within 30 days of the filing of the petition are considered void and will result in your dissolution not counting. So even years after the judgment was signed, you may still be married to who you thought was your ex-spouse!
After the 30 days is up, if the opposing party has not filed an answer, the Petitioner is entitled to a Default Judgment. Essentially, that means that the person had their chance to fight the Petition, but didn't, so the Petitioner gets whatever they want (within reason). If you have had a default judgment filed against you, do not despair as these are routinely set aside, particularly if you can get to them within 30 days of the Judgment, though you may have to pay the other side's attorney's fees for writing the judgment and showing up to court for it.
If the other party has filed an answer and/or an additional counter-petition, then the parties move into discovery. Christian County divorces, Taney County divorces, and Stone County divorces all have different local rules from each other and from Springfield on how discovery is supposed to occur. In each county, there are several forms to fill out, one that details your income and expenses, one that details your assets and debts, and one that asks you questions about where you live, what you do, etc.
If these answers and forms aren't sufficient to proceed with a trial, the parties can engage in additional discovery which may take the form of more interrogatories, an examination of ones bank records, or even depositions. Once the parties are satisfied that they know everything about the marital estate and of the other party, they ask the court for a trial setting.
At any point after the 30 days and before the court enters a judgment, the parties can settle their case. This is done with a marital settlement agreement. In most counties, you can also file an affidavit with the court stating that you agree with the marital settlement agreement and do not wish to appear in court. The attorney will draft a judgment in accordance with the marital settlement agreement (and parenting plan if necessary) and usually within a week the judge will sign it.
If you are starting the divorce process in Chrisitan County, Taney County, Stone County, or anywhere in the surrounding area of Southwest Missouri, please schedule a consultation today by calling The Garrett Law Firm at (417) 334-6316 or by clicking "Contact Us" above.