In Missouri, legal separation is a formal arrangement that resembles divorce, except that the spouses remain married in the eyes of the law. It addresses issues such as property division, spousal maintenance, child custody, and child support, just like in divorce cases. Some couples choose legal separation instead of divorce for religious or financial reasons, or if they believe there’s a chance of reconciliation in the future.
If you’re considering legal separation or are already legally separated and want to file for divorce, it’s crucial to consult with a reputable Family Law attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.
How can I Obtain Legal Separation in Missouri?
Getting legally separated in Missouri follows a procedure similar to that of divorce. To start the legal separation process, one spouse must have been a resident of the county for at least 90 days. This spouse needs to file a “Separate Maintenance” petition at their county circuit court and serve the papers to the other party. The responding spouse must then file a formal Answer with the court.
After the filing date, there’s a waiting period of at least 30 days before the court issues a judgment. Missouri family courts aim to give couples sufficient time to carefully consider their decision.
During the waiting period, the spouses will likely attend a hearing where both parties can present their arguments to the judge. Mediation may also be required, and the spouses can draft a separation settlement agreement for the judge’s approval.
The court will grant the final Decree of Separation if it determines that the marriage is not irretrievably broken and can potentially be salvaged.
Can I Convert Legal Separation to Divorce?
Missouri law allows legally separated couples to pursue a divorce if at least 90 days have passed since their legal separation. Either spouse can file a motion with the court to convert the legal separation order into a marriage dissolution decree (divorce). The judge will consider evidence that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” before granting the divorce decree.
Conversely, if the couple decides to reconcile after being legally separated, they can ask the court to dismiss the existing legal separation order.
Do I Need Grounds for Legal Separation in Missouri?
Missouri does not require spouses to have specific grounds to file for legal separation. However, if the respondent disagrees with their spouse’s separation petition, the court will seek grounds to proceed with the separation process. Valid grounds for legal separation are similar to those for divorce and include:
- Adultery by either spouse
- Criminal activity by either spouse
- Misconduct or unreasonable behavior of either spouse
- Abandonment by either spouse for a sustained period of at least six months
- Both spouses have been living apart for at least 24 months
- Both spouses have been living apart for a continuous period of 12 months immediately before filing the petition
- The irreparable breakdown of the marriage
Legal Separation vs. Divorce: Differences and Considerations
While legal separation is often seen as an alternative to divorce, there are significant differences that couples should bear in mind:
- Divorce legally terminates the marriage, whereas legal separation does not. Legal separation formalizes the issues that arise when spouses live apart, such as property division, alimony, and child custody.
- Divorced individuals are no longer married and can remarry, but legally separated individuals are still married and cannot enter into a new marriage.
- After divorce, ex-spouses lose their marital rights, such as being next of kin in case of the other party’s death or emergency. Legal separation may preserve these rights.
- If divorced spouses wish to reconcile and resume their marital privileges, they must remarry. However, legally separated spouses can simply request the court to dissolve their legal separation order.
Contact a Family Law Attorney at Garrity Traina
It’s crucial to seek sound legal advice when considering legal separation or divorce, as both have legal implications that can greatly impact your personal and financial life. Speak to an experienced divorce lawyer at Garrity Traina, a trusted Family Law firm in Missouri that provides practical and efficient counsel on divorce and separation.
Call Garrity Traina at (636) 946-9999 or email us for a confidential consultation.