Since 2008, I have handled nearly 2,000 uncontested divorces throughout Missouri. In contrast to contested divorce proceedings, uncontested cases allow the parties to decide for themselves the appropriate disposition for their property and debt, and what arrangements work best for the custody, visitation, and support of their children. Uncontested divorces can be disposed of quickly and at a cost that is much more affordable than long, drawn-out contested cases.
Just because a case is uncontested and your divorce is amicable, does not mean you don't have questions. Below I have provided some information relating to the uncontested divorce process in Missouri. I hope that this Uncontested Divorce F.A.Q. provides answers to any questions that you may have about divorce, and that it helps you determine whether an uncontested divorce is right for you and your spouse.
Please note that every case is different, and the following information should not be considered legal advice. If you have any other questions or would like to discuss your individual case further, please contact me directly at anytime. I also author a Missouri Uncontested Divorce Blog, which I regularly update with additional uncontested divorce information.
Your first step in deciding whether I'm an appropriate choice to handle your divorce is to make sure your case is uncontested. If you're not sure whether your divorce is uncontested, it probably isn't, at least not yet. An uncontested divorce requires the cooperation and collaboration of each spouse. Prior to ever hiring me, you and your spouse will have discussed your divorce and reached an agreement on the division of assets, allocation of debt and, if children are involved, child custody & support. Each party must be ready, willing and able to sign the paperwork that I prepare, which will reflect the agreement reached between you and your spouse.
For a more detailed explanation of what exactly is required of parties wishing to facilitate their divorce through my flat-fee uncontested divorce service, please see the Uncontested Divorce Checklists found below.
I can't bypass the mandatory waiting period nor can I control how long it takes you and your spouse to review the documentation that must be approved prior to filing. However, I work hard to make sure that everything you are relying on me to do is completed as quickly as possible. This includes receiving rough drafts of your settlement documents within one week of payment of attorney fees. I will also make sure your case is filed as quickly as possible, usually within one or two days, if not the very same day, that I have your signed documents in my office. Immediately upon the mandatory waiting period lapsing, your file will be presented to the Judge for review. Once he or she signs off on everything, the divorce is final. My goal is to get you divorced as quickly as possible and to reduce your stress.
No. I've had exactly three clients ask if they could pay an additional fee for a guaranteed "final by" date. I can't do this for a couple reasons. One, it would probably be considered some sort of contingency fee, which lawyers cannot take for family law cases. The second reason is the more important to communicate, and that is that there are simply things beyond my control that can cause delays in your case being finalized after the 30-day waiting period is up. If the day I pull your file and submit it to the Judge for review, the Judge takes a vacation, or is out sick, or is in trial, or is just plain busy, your Judge may not be able to get to your file that day (or possibly even that week). I work to get your case filed as quickly as possible and then to submitted the case to the Judge right after the waiting period ends. Beyond that, there isn't much I can do to ensure your case is finalized by a certain date. For the record, all three of the clients who requested a guaranteed final-by date had their case finalized on the first possible day anyway.
Getting your uncontested divorce started is easy. You essentially have three choices in doing so - submit your case online, make an appointment to meet with me, or download an intake packet. Whichever method you choose, your uncontested divorce will be handled quickly and professionally - same quality and same speed of completion no matter how you choose to proceed. If you've had enough question-and-answer for the day and you're reading to get started, please refer to the Getting Starting portion of my homepage for your options.
No. I have handled cases for clients that live all around Missouri. I have completed divorces for clients in Cape Girardeau, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, and Sikeston, just to name a few. In many of these cases, where my clients are located far away, we never met face-to-face. In fact, for a good number of my uncontested divorce cases, I am able to complete the entire process without my client ever needing to come into my office or even have a face-to-face meeting. We have been able to complete their entire divorce through email, phone, and mail. In almost all uncontested cases, a court appearance will not be required by you or your spouse.
Possibly, but not necessarily. Missouri law permits a divorce to be filed in any court in the state, provided at least one party is a resident of Missouri for the last 90-days and neither party objects to filing in a court that is not in their county of residence. Filing cases in a limited number of courts, irregardless of where the parties live in Missouri, allows me to move the cases quickly and keep my fees lower. If you are an out-of-area client, we will discuss the pros and cons of filing in a court that may not be in your county prior to representation commencing.
Besides follow the Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan (if children involved), nothing, really. You'll tie up the loose ends as per the settlement, including refinancing jointly titled debts and removing the non-taking party from the assets they will no longer own. Spouses that choose to restore their former or maiden name will do that with the Social Security Office after the dissolution is final as well.
Sure, give it a shot, but know what you're getting into it. Do-it-yourself divorces require a lot more work from the litigant, of course - you'll need to complete the rather large Missouri Bar pro se divorce paperwork packet, attend a Pro Se Litigant Awareness Program, and attend at least one court appearance to explain your case to the Judge and request a Judgment be entered. This is generally not an easy process, and the complexities lead some people to abandon the case, forfeiting their filing fee and wasting their time.
You should beware of the "$29.95 (or whatever the price, usually ending in .95 or .99) divorce forms" you can find all over the internet. You'll download forms from some form preparation site, maybe in Guam or Jamaica or some other location that will probably change three months later or disappear all together. Visit a few of them and see for yourself - lots of money back guarantee signs, lots of pictures of happy spouses working blissfully through the paperwork, and a few testimonials, maybe real, maybe not, telling you what a great service it is. Undoubtedly, you'll have no real person at the "company" to contact when things get confusing or go wrong and you certainly won't have an attorney by your side to make sure problems are ironed out quickly (or better yet, that there are no problems in the first place). You may find yourself spending many hours filing out these forms which, by the way, may not even turn out to work or at least not as you expected them to (i.e., Missouri courts will require the Missouri Bar pro se forms and will reject other forms).
The issues that should be addressed in a divorce are not always intuitive, and working your case through the divorce courts certainly isn't. Do you know how to set a case for an uncontested hearing? Do you know the essential elements that must be testified to under oath in order for a Judge to grant your dissolution? Probably not, nor should you. I have no idea what to do when my car transmission starts to slip, or when I start having chest pains after a few weeks of working way too much. I go to mechanics and doctors. You know what you're doing at your job, we attorneys, generally speaking, know what we're doing at our job.
No, almost definitely not. Keeping you out of court is of mutual benefit to you and me. You don't want to take off work, travel to court, pay for parking, find your division, and then sit through a hearing and I don't want to either. Time I spend waiting through dockets is time I can better spend producing high quality pleadings and answering questions and concerns from my clients. For this reason, I submit all of my uncontested divorce cases on affidavits. These affidavits replace your in-court testimony, and can be used by the court to make the findings necessary to enter a dissolution judgment. If, by off-chance your case requires an in-court appearance by you and your attorney, this will likely be recognized early on, due to some nuance or unique detail of your case, and we'll be able to fully discuss what goes into this. In 2011 I had one uncontested divorce case that required a hearing; in 2012 and 2013, I did not have any.
The easiest way to break this down is by dividing the pleadings into two categories - pleadings necessary to get the case filed with the court, and the pleadings necessary to finalize the divorce after the waiting period ends. The first set of pleadings, the ones required to be filed in order to get the case started, include the Petition for Dissolution (basically a document laying out certain factual requirements and also telling the court you want a divorce), a Statement of Property and Debt, and a Statement of Income and Expense. These are the documents that in a traditional divorce case would be served on the Respondent (your spouse). For an uncontested case, we can avoid that hassle and forgo the expense (and embarrassment for your spouse) of service of process. Instead, the Respondent simply files an Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service. This single document allows us to proceed without your spouse being personally served by a sheriff or a process server. Once that first set of paperwork is filed with the court, the mandatory 30-day waiting period begins. At the conclusion of the waiting period, I appear in court, pull your file, and present it to the Judge along with the second set of pleadings, which is made up of the Judgment of Dissolution, Affidavits for Judgment, Marital Settlement Agreement, and, if children are involved, a Parenting Plan. The Marital Settlement Agreement controls the distribution of property and debt and the Parenting Plan lays out the agreed upon child custody and support obligations; the Judgment of Dissolution incorporates those documents (which will be referenced in the Judgment as Exhibits) into the divorce decree, making the terms and obligations of those documents enforceable in court (assuming, of course, that the Judge found the parties' agreements and pleadings legally sufficient and acceptable).
The main difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that at the end of a legal separation case, you are not divorced, you are, naturally, legally separated. Parties often opt to proceed with a legal separation due to insurance purposes or a true belief that their marriage is not irretrievably broken and they want to give life separated from their spouse a try. If the couple reconciles, the legal separation can be dismissed and the marriage remains intact. Alternatively, if the parties decide to convert the legal separation to a dissolution, that is a quick process that can be done at minimal cost. The paperwork prepared in a legal separation case is so similar to that of a divorce case, that the fee you are quoted for an uncontested divorce will be the same fee you are quoted for a legal separation case.
Besides the honest belief that the marriage could be preserved, there are other reasons to pursue a legal separation over a divorce, such as the potential ability to stay on your spouse's insurance. Read a more detailed rundown of uncontested legal separation vs. uncontested divorce over on my Missouri Uncontested Divorce Blog.
Let's say you and your spouse agree to the uncontested divorce. You hire me, I draft the paperwork, we get signatures, and file the case. Now you and your spouse want to give it another shot and you inquire about getting some of your payment back. If your case has been filed, this represents that all of the documentation needed to start and finish your divorce has been drafted, signed, and the case is ready to finalize upon the tolling of the mandatory waiting period. At this point in the process, the fee previously paid has been earned by your attorney and there is no refund to be had. If you stop the case prior to your attorney drafting your paperwork, you may be entitled to a partial refund of your payment, pursuant to the representation agreement entered into between you and your attorney. The more common refund request is when the spouse no longer agrees to proceed with an uncontested divorce. I tell clients straight up - if you do not know that your spouse will sign the uncontested divorce paperwork that accurately reflects the agreement you think you have with your spouse, then do not waste your money on me. Once the paperwork is completed, I have earned the payment you have made. If you wish to proceed with a contested case, I will offer my services to you for the contested divorce only if my workload permits. If I cannot take on any new contested matters, I will offer you a name or two of lawyers in your area that I find competent and trustworthy.
Yes, a divorce with a missing spouse is still, in many ways, uncontested. In this situation, it's not because both parties agree not to contest any issues, it's simply because one spouse probably won't be involved in the case at all. When one spouse is missing, service of process is obtained by placing an ad in the newspaper in the county the divorce is filed, basically giving notice of the pending suit. Theoretically, the party could see the ad placed in an obscure legal newspaper, but those chances are slim and, to-date, has never occurred in the many divorce-by-publication cases I've handled.
Using publication to serve your spouse in a divorce case is not preferred. For one, you can't get much done besides a change in status - from married to single. A divorce using service by publication does not allow for the division of assets or waiver of maintenance or support payments. In other words, we may be able to get you legally divorced with this method of service, but that's all we'll be doing... in the future, if and when your spouse finds out that you obtained a divorce by publication they will likely be angry and on their way to an attorney to figure out how they can get their rightful share of marital assets. In this situation, you'll find yourself in court, a single person, sure, but also an individual that is now defending the post-dissolution division of assets that should have been addressed in the divorce itself. If it is discovered that your use of service by publication in the original dissolution action was done simply to avoid dealing with your spouse getting his or her rightful share of the marital assets, the court understandably may not view you in quite as a favorable light as it would had you proceeded with your original case in a less deceitful way. Specifically, since you would have previously sworn under oath that your spouse could not be located, your future testimony (in front of the same Judge you previously testified in front of) may be considered less trustworthy. For a divorce by publication, a court appearance will be required by the client.
Clients ask this all of the time, almost as if they suspect my request for this information amounts to me just being nosy. It doesn't, of course. In order to file your case, I have to fill out Income & Expense Statements and Property & Debt Statements. These statements are required to be filed with the client's Petition for Dissolution. There is no way around this requirement, so the information simply has to be provided.
No, sorry. I wish it could, as it would allow me to complete cases quicker, but it can't be. I suppose it's called a mandatory waiting period for a reason.
Waiting periods are often called cooling off periods and are exactly as they sound - they are legally mandated lapses in time designed to preserve the family. In other words, they prevent you from getting in a fight on Tuesday night and hiring an attorney to get you divorced on Wednesday. Occasionally you will hear about a group attempting to extent the waiting period with the thought that it will help prevent some couples from going through with their divorce once they've had some extra time to think it through. I'm not so sure about that, and I hope Missouri continues as-is with its relatively short 30-day waiting period.
E-mail me. I scan in every client's final documentation and can provide a secure link to your final paperwork a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, whenever. Simply email me, give me your name at the time of the dissolution case, verify you were my client by answering a question or two that relate to your case, and you'll be emailed a secured link to your documents in no time. You will receive a PDF copy of your final paperwork in your email inbox upon the case being finalized, as well as a hardcopy in the mail. If you need a new certified copy of your paperwork, that can be purchased at the circuit clerk's office.
My office is in Sunset Hills, in one of those office buildings you can see from Highway 44 right around the Lindbergh exit. If you're familiar with where the old Viking Conference Center was (now Mile 277) at Lindbergh and Watson, my office is behind that and a little to the west. The address is 10805 Sunset Office Drive, Sunset Hills, Missouri 63127. I'm on the third floor, suite 300. Please note that all meetings are by appointment only.
I did, thank you for asking.
The first, first step is making sure you have an uncontested divorce. Ideally you and your spouse have read through the Uncontested Divorce Checklists and you both agree that an uncontested divorce with Linnenbringer Law is the way to go. You both understand the role of me, the attorney, as well as the positives (fast, much more affordable, easier) and possible negatives (no attorneys looking for hidden assets, advising you as to the disposition of your property, or how much, if any, maintenance should be paid) of choosing to proceed with an uncontested divorce.
Once you have determined that an uncontested divorce is a good way for you and your spouse to peacefully and quickly resolve your marriage, you'll move on to the first step that involves me. Representation on your uncontested divorce begins when I have two things, information and payment. The information can be relayed to me in three ways, which can be explored in detail in the Getting Starting section of the Linnenbringer Law homepage. The gist, however, is that you'll get this information to me in either a face-to-face interview, through an intake packet (download link) which you will need to fill out and return to me via email, fax, mail, or hand-delivery, or through my online uncontested divorce submission. If you get started through the online system, payment will be made at the end of the form. If submitting your information through an intake packet, you will receive a price quote which, once accepted, can be paid online, in-person, over the phone, or through the mail. When it comes to getting started and making payment, the choice really comes down to whatever is most convenient for the client.
Now you wait, but just for a little bit. I can get most of my uncontested divorce paperwork out to the client (who shares with their spouse) for review within two to three days. If I have a lot of court appearances for a certain week, or a bunch of appointments, that can delay things a day or two, but, generally speaking, the rough draft pleadings are in your inbox, ready for review, in just a couple of days. After you and your spouse review the pleadings carefully, you'll provide feedback as to what needs to be added, revised, corrected, etc. I'd say for 80% of my cases, the pleadings are good to go on the first try. If not, the requested revisions are made, always in 24 hours or less, and new drafts are sent to you for review. Once we have mutually acceptable drafts, we can proceed to getting everything signed.
In order to file your case, we need signed originals, of course. You have three options, basically, for how this step gets completed: (1) I can email you everything to print and sign. I've come up with a nice system to make the required signings as clear as possible. With my method and the easy-to-follow, clear and detailed instructions I provide, it is rare that the paperwork is not returned to me perfectly signed and organized. You and your spouse follow the instructions, sign and have notarized, where applicable, and mail or hand-deliver everything back to my office. (2) The client can come in, sign their portion, and then take the paperwork to their spouse for signature. Much like the first option, the instructions and method I have developed to get this done has all but eliminated the chance that the paperwork is not signed correctly. You facilitate getting your spouse's signature (again, with a notary public witnesses those signatures, where applicable), bring the paperwork back to me, and I take it from there. (3) Finally, you and your spouse are welcomed to stop by my office by appointment to sign. Spouses can come together or separate, it does not matter to me.
Once I have signed paperwork and the filing fee, your part is pretty much done and I take it from there. I prepare the cover-sheets for your case, organize it for filing, and then drive it up to the court. The day I drop it off with the filing window clerk is the date the case is considered filed. The following day is the first day of the mandatory 30 day waiting period. Once the 30-days is up, I appear in court, pull your file, and present it to the Judge.
I can only get your final paperwork in front of the Judge as soon as I can, the rest is out of my control. Once your paperwork is on the Judge's desk, it's up to the Judge how long it takes to address your file. Judges go out of town, they conduct trials, and are generally just busy. So, please don't be surprised if you don't hear from me on day 31, 32, or even 33. Don't get me wrong, I have had plenty of cases get finalized on the 31st day, but it's certainly no guarantee. I'll do my job as quickly as I can, and then, just like you, I'll be waiting for word that your file has been addressed by the Judge. It is also worth noting, that often times I will get word of the divorce being final a few days after the Judge has signed and the case is final.
For parties without children, without maintenance obligations, and without any jointly titled assets or debts, there isn't much to do, divorce-wise, once the case is final. For parties with children, they will start following the terms of the Parenting Plan, including the custody exchange schedule and child support obligations. Title-work and refinancing will occur post-dissolution as well, if not taken care of already, as the parties will want to have their ex-spouse removed from any jointly titled assets or debts that they are taking post-dissolution. For sure, it is important, and easier on everyone, if the parties can maintain the ability to contact one another and work cordially together until all post-dissolution matters are taken care of. Something as simple as having a quit-claim deed signed can become a real problem if the other party disappears or all of the sudden decides they shouldn't abide by the terms they agreed upon in the marital settlement agreement.
Marital property, in the most general terms, is property, assets, debt, etc that you acquired since the date of the marriage. People come in to the office all of the time and say things like, "the house is mine, I owned it prior to marriage and I'm the only one on the title." I will follow up first and ask, "you owned it outright prior to marriage? In other words, you had it completely paid-off prior to the day you and your spouse married?" Almost without exception, the client's answer is, "No." "Okay then," I respond, "then every payment you've made towards that asset and towards paying down the mortgage and creating equity, unless paid from a verifiably non-marital account, has been a marital payment and has created marital ownership/equity in the home. Further, how the property is titled is generally inconsequential. You'll need to figure out the marital equity in the home and prepare to divide it in the divorce." No one likes to hear this, of course, but it's true and can reduce the likelihood that the client's post-dissolution expectations are unreasonable. There is certain property acquired during the marriage that is considered non-marital, however, like property acquired by gift, or through inheritance, for instance.
I suggest to clients that they provide as much detail as possible, as a more detailed plan reduces ambiguities and the potential for future disputes. I am always trying to make sure that the settlements and parenting plans that I draft are of very high quality, which to me means that they leave no room for interpretation, questions, and/or disputes after your case is final. I have refined my pleadings in a way to reduce, if not eliminate (to the extent possible), the "what if this happens" post-dissolution issues.
No, Missouri courts do not require an exact 50-50 split. Missouri requires an equitable division of marital property. Equitable does not necessarily mean equal. In fact, there are certainly circumstances, such as situations where one party has committed marital waste, that would possibly make an equal 50-50 split inequitable. For instance, if Husband and Wife have $100,000 in assets to divide, and in the last year Husband blew $50,000 gambling, you could certainly argue that Wife receiving more than half of the remaining marital assets in order to offset Husband's marital waste would be appropriate and equitable. In uncontested cases, the courts, in my experience, generally assume that the agreement presented is equitable, which is why each party has signed off on it. The court is there to resolve disputes and will generally prefer not to jump in and breakup an agreement reached between the parties.
How your assets and debts are titled is not dispositive as to whether or not the asset or debt is considered a marital piece of property (or debt). For instance - let's say Soon-To-Be-Wife buys a car on December 31, 2013 - she pays $10,000 cash from money she earned prior to the marriage and takes out a car loan for the balance of $10,000. Soon-To-Be-Wife becomes Wife when she and Husband marry on January 1, 2014. Wife now has a car, titled in her sole name, with $10,000 in non-marital, separate equity. After marriage, Wife's monthly car loan payments (assuming the payments are made with marital funds) would be considered marital contributions towards the outright ownership of the car. So, while the car may be titled in her sole name and a portion of the car's value would likely be considered Wife's separate property (due to the pre-marital $10,000 down payment) and not subject to division, Husband nonetheless acquired marital rights in the equity accrued as the couple paid off the car loan during the course of the marriage. While not controlling as to the marital vs. non-marital distinction, assets and loans that are not jointly titled are generally easier to deal with post-dissolution, as the parties won't need to take the steps necessary to remove the non-taking party's name off of these titles nor refinance loans to remove a party's name from the obligation.
Kind of. A divorce will not, in and of itself, modify who is on the title of your home or who is on the mortgage secured by the home. The divorce will, or should, if drafted by a competent attorney, have provisions in the settlement agreement that dictate what the parties should do post-dissolution in order to tie up these loose ends. For example, let's say you have a jointly-titled home where both parties are on the mortgage - the most common situation for married couples. The parties agree Wife shall take the home in the divorce. What needs to happen then? Wife needs to refinance the mortgage in order to remove Husband's name from the note, as Husband should not be financially on the hook for an asset he no longer owns pursuant to the settlement agreement and post-dissolution distribution of property. Concurrently with this refinance, Husband would execute a quit-claim deed in order to remove his name from the title of the home. Once these two steps are completed, you can see the clean split - Wife is the only one on the title, and she is also the only one on the mortgage that is secured by her home. Note that when cash buy-outs are to be paid (used when equity exists in the home that the parties want to divide without selling the asset), this cash can sometimes be drawn out at the time of refinance.
Maintenance payments are post-dissolution spousal support payments. In the past, these spousal support payment were known as alimony. Maintenance can be modifiable or non-modifiable. The distinction between these two types is exactly as it sounds - one can be changed by the court at a later date, the other can't. So, for example, if Wife agrees to pay Husband a monthly sum of $500 in non-modifiable maintenance for a period of three years, that is exactly what Wife will/has to do, provided the maintenance obligation does not terminate by law (i.e., the remarriage of the spouse receiving maintenance), or by some agreed-upon occurrence (i.e., if, for example, the parties agree the maintenance obligation will terminate upon Husband getting a job making $60,000 or more per year).
On the other hand, if the maintenance obligation is modifiable, then either party can, with a motion to modify, change the maintenance obligation. Of course, they can't file (or at least be successful on) a motion to modify unless they can prove that the modification is legally warranted, given the current situation of the parties. In legal terms, the person requesting the modification will have to show a continuing and substantial change. In other words, the person filing the motion to modify must show that, since the date of the original judgment, things have changed so much that the terms of the original judgment are now unreasonable. For example, let's say Husband, an professional trumpet player, is ordered to pay $1,500 per month in modifiable maintenance for an indefinite period of time. Five years after that Judgment is entered, Husband loses all of his fingers in a bear trap. No longer able to play trumpet, Husband's income plummets. Husband could then file, but probably not type up himself, a motion to modify the maintenance obligation. His motion to modify would be based on the continuing, substantial change that he is no longer able to practice his craft and earn the income the original maintenance order was based off of.
How a maintenance obligation terminates can be decided by the parties. They can agree that maintenance shall terminate on a certain date, after a duration of time, or upon a specific event occurring in the future. Alternatively, maintenance can also be of an indefinite duration. Maintenance that is of an indefinite duration will be modifiable, meaning that either party can file a motion to change the obligation if circumstances dictate.
No. As you can imagine, most cases present a situation where one spouse makes more than the other, if only by a small amount. This single fact does not mean one party has to pay maintenance. In fact, even when a situation may generally call for maintenance, there is nothing preventing a party from waiving maintenance anyway. In other words, even if one party would get a maintenance award if it were the Judge deciding the post-dissolution obligations (like after a trial), that does not mean that the party cannot waive maintenance in an uncontested case. I see this quite often, actually. Some parties do not want to rely on their ex-spouse for maintenance, or they simply don't agree with the concept of alimony.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties come into the representation with an agreement on all factors of the divorce, so, technically, maintenance is calculated however the parties chose as they came up with their final agreement. In contested cases, however, the determination of maintenance, otherwise known as alimony or spousal support, will depend on a number of factors. There are a number of different types of maintenance and many factors that go into whether a maintenance order is appropriate and, if it is, how much and how long it should be for. For example, a few common factors courts will consider, regardless of the particular state, are the income of each party, the financial needs of each party, each party's present and future earning capacity, the standard of living during the marriage, the duration of the marriage, and contributions of the party requesting maintenance to the education, career, and home of the other party, just to name a few. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, there is no minimum length of marriage that is required before a court can order maintenance.
First, make sure your maintenance obligation is modifiable. If it is an unmodifiable maintenance obligation, you need to figure out how to pay the court order, regardless of your employment status. If the maintenance obligation is modifiable, then the now-unemployed-party could file a motion to modify. As explained above, the paying spouse would file a motion to modify the maintenance obligation based on the continuing and substantial change that he or she is now unemployed and makes much less money. Whether that change is considered "continuing," may depend on the spouse's employability, whether other similarly paying jobs are available, etc.
Maintenance is taxable income for the party receiving it, and a tax deduction for the party paying maintenance. If Wife is under an order to pay Husband a sum of $1,000 per month in maintenance, at the end of the year, Husband will have to pay taxes on the $12,000 of maintenance he received that year (assuming the obligation spanned the entire year). Conversely, Wife will be able to write-off the maintenance payments that she paid out, which will lower her total taxable income by $12,000. The tax consequences of a maintenance obligation should be considered when negotiating a final disposition to cases in which maintenance is appropriate.
No, nor can the uncontested divorce lawyer tell you whether or not maintenance should be paid in your case. Both issues go beyond the scope of representation provided by your attorney in an uncontested divorce.
I suggest your plan be as detailed as possible, as a more detailed plan reduces ambiguities and potential for future disputes. I always try to make sure that the settlements and parenting plans that I draft are of high quality, leaving no room for interpretation and reducing the likelihood of disputes after your case is final. I have refined my pleadings in a way to reduce and eliminate (to the extent possible), the "what if this happens" questions that can pop up post-dissolution.
Yes, probably. I have plenty of clients who agree with their spouse that no child support shall be paid by either party. The court will want to see some provisions to ensure that the child's needs are accounted for, of course, as the court must always do what is in the best interests of the children. But if the parties agree that they'll split certain expenses, and the parties incomes are similar, and each party has equal time with the children, you can certainly see why child support, in a traditional sense, would not be necessary.
The court must enter orders that are found to be in the best interests of the children. However, in an uncontested case, the court generally gives great deference to the arrangements made by and agreed upon by the parties. If, however, upon review of the joint parenting plan, the court has serious concerns or questions as to whether the plan agreed upon by the parties - especially in cases where the visitation schedule is extremely lopsided - this could require the parties to appear in court and testify as to why the particular plan agreed upon is in the best interest of the children. For example, if a visitation schedule gives one party extremely limited access to the children, it will probably be necessary to include the reasons for those limitations in the parenting plan or, alternatively, possibly even give testimony during a short court hearing as to why the plan, while unconventional and perhaps uneven, is still in the best interests of the children. I will give you notice if I believe that your particular visitation schedule or parenting plan may cause issues.
In the simplest terms, legal custody has to do with decision-making. If parents share joint legal custody, they will share in the decision-making surrounding the upbringing of the child. If a parent with joint legal custody wants to change the child's religion, or where the child goes to school, or even who they use for the child's dentist, that parent needs to confer with the other parent when making that decision. If parents with joint legal custody cannot agree on an issue in which they both have a say in, you can guess where they end up - in court, with each party trying to prove why their particular viewpoint is in the best interests of the child. There is a presumption that it is in the best interest of the child that both parents are involved in the decision-making involved in the upbringing of a child. That being the case, if you are seeking sole legal custody - even in an uncontested case where your spouse consents to your belief that sole legal custody is best for your child - you will need to provide a reason for sole legal custody being appropriate. Indeed, the parenting plan for St. Louis County, for example, specifically requires that the parties complete the sentence, "Mother and Father cannot share joint legal custody because:" in situations where the parties are requesting sole legal custody. As you can imagine, the reasoning you would fill in there is not generally very complimentary to the other party.
Physical custody, naturally, refers to where the child is physically present. People often call and say they've spoken with their spouse and they agree that Mother shall be "primary parent," or have "primary custody." This doesn't exist in Missouri. There is no "primary" parent or main parent, or special parent, or any other terminology that puts one parent above the other in a joint physical custody situation. There is a residential parent, but that refers only to which parent's address will be used for school and mailing purposes. So, if the parents have joint physical custody with Mother as residential parent, this would mean that the parents share equal physical custodial rights, and Mom's address will be used to determine what school district the children reside in. It should also be noted that just because parties share joint physical custody, that does not necessarily mean they have equal custodial time with the children. Parties can elect to have joint physical custody even where one party has more overnights than the other.
Legal jargon aside and straight to the point, a great majority of situations that I come across, keeping in mind that these cases are uncontested, where the parties are communicating and cooperating with each other, call for joint physical custody and joint legal custody. Unless there is an articulable reason that one party cannot be involved in the decision making surrounding the child, I will generally steer clients towards joint legal custody.
Generally speaking, child support is determined by the parties in an uncontested case. The parties can agree to a few different child support arrangements, however. Some parties, usually due to an equal custody arrangement and/or their similar incomes, opt to not have any child support paid by either party. In these situations, the parties may agree that no cash payments will be made by either party to either party for the support of the children, but will usually also agree that certain expenses - extracurriculars, school books, orthodontic work, etc. - be split equally between the parents. Other parties may choose to follow the State-determined Missouri Form 14 child support amount. You see, your state legislature periodically reviews and determines how much a parent's child support obligation should be based on the income of each party and a number of other factors, including who is covering certain expenses, like schooling, insurance coverage, or daycare, to name a few. In contested cases, you will often find parties end up using the State-determined child support amount. Searching for Form 14 calculator in Google will provide numerous calculators you can use to see what your child support obligation would be, but keep in mind some of these calculators could be out-of-date. The last option for parties determining what the child support amount should be is to simply agree on a number. That number may seem arbitrary to 3rd parties, but that is generally okay. So long as the figure agreed-upon by your and your spouse is reasonable, provides for and is in the best interest of the children, it should be no problem getting that child support agreement approved by the court.
Uncontested divorces are "easier" cases for attorneys to handle. I'm not having to deal with opposing counsel, there are no discovery motions filed, missing spouses don't need to be tracked down, and there are no lengthy court appearances required. I take the information you provide me with and prepare high-quality divorce pleadings. From there, I file the case and take all the steps necessary to expediently move your divorce through the courts. That is not to say I simply prepare paperwork and move on, as I will also evaluate the agreement in terms of practicality and make sure everything necessary is addressed in your settlement agreement and/or parenting plan. I will not, however, evaluate your agreement as to fairness. I am not here to decide on the distribution of your property and debt or settle your arguments - that is your responsibility in an uncontested divorce case. I will not advise either party as to whether their agreed upon distribution is fair to them. This requires a legal determination, which, in order to keep the process fair for both the represented party and the non-represented party, I cannot make for you.
Absolutely not. An attorney can only represent one party in a divorce. Representing both parties presents an unavoidable and non-waivable conflict of interest. That being said, the representation I provide to the Petitioner is of limited scope, so I am not providing insight or advice as to how the client can "win" the divorce or put one over on the non-represented party. That would be not only unethical, but unfair. It is in my best interest, in a business-sense, to be fundamentally fair and to turn down representation where I believe the Petitioner, my client, is trying to pull one over on their spouse or take advantage of their spouse's trust. So, while I do communicate primarily with my client, the Petitioner, and file the case on the Petitioner's behalf, my legal representation is limited to preparing and filing the pleadings required to facilitate the uncontested divorce.
That's your call, of course, but I will say that I have had many, many clients who come to me for an uncontested divorce after they and their spouse tried, and gave up, handling the divorce themselves. Once you've completed the hundred some-odd pages of pro se paperwork required to file the divorce, you still need to navigate the case through the courts, attend a Pro Se Litigant Awareness Program, and attend at least one court appearance to present the case to the Judge. This is generally not an intuitive or easy process, and the complexities lead some people to abandon the case, forfeiting their filing fee and wasting their time.
Head on over to the portion of this site dedicated to my background, education and experience: St. Louis Uncontested Divorce Lawyer, Gerald W. Linnenbringer.
The cost of your uncontested divorce consists of attorney fees and a filing fee. The filing fee, for most of the uncontested divorce cases that I handle, is $140. Your attorney fee will vary depending on whether children are involved and/or there are large amounts of assets to divide, but generally falls in the $500 to $1,000 range. This is not a retainer and you will not pay anything more than the initial price you are quoted, regardless of the edits required to your settlement agreement or parenting plan. You will know exactly how much your uncontested divorce will cost, down to the dollar, prior to hiring me.
You can pay pretty much however you prefer. Cash, check, money order, cashier's check, credit card, debit card, whatever works best for you. Payment can be made over the phone, online, through the mail, or you're welcomed to stop by the office and make payment in person (by appointment only).
Very little. If your uncontested case is of the traditional type - i.e., both spouses are around, on the same page, and ready, willing, and able to sign the paperwork I prepare to facilitate the divorce, then the filing fee/court costs will be your only other expense. If your uncontested case is uncontested because your spouse simply cannot be located, your case will involve publication fees (for service in the newspaper) and a default hearing fee (required whenever a Respondent (your spouse) does not respond to the service of process). Besides that, the only other possible expense would be the expense of drafting a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A QDRO will be required in the event we are dividing a 401(k), pension, or some other qualified investment/retirement account. These QDRO fees are quoted on a case-to-case basis, as some QDROs require more time than others. Keep in mind, you're under no obligation to use me to draft your QDRO simply because I handled the uncontested divorce. In fact, I've been hired to prepare QDROs for cases in which I did not handle the divorce, and I've had clients who did use my services for their divorce go on to hire a different attorney to handle their QDRO (usually at my suggestion, and usually for less routine QDROs that require more expertise in that particular pension, policy, or plan).
Nothing. If your attorney quotes you an increased rate for the restoration of your maiden (or a former) name, you should ask exactly what goes into that extra fee because really, it's as simple as inserting one line in the Judgment for Dissolution. Keep in mind, you may only restore a former name or a maiden name in a dissolution case - no completely new names... you'll need to file a proper Petition for Name Change for a wholesale name change.
I am always willing to discuss payment plans, but prefer that clients only use them if they are absolutely necessary. I generally charge $50 for payment plans, but sometimes waive that fee in situations where the client is facing extraordinary financial difficulties. I am easy to work with and quite understanding when it comes to the financial difficulties that can accompany the change in life that divorce brings. I will file your case and proceed as if you are paid-in-full, even if you're on a payment plan; however, I will not finalize a case where the client has an outstanding balance with my office.
The same thing you can do if your spouse doesn't follow the Settlement Agreement after a contested case - you can file an Order to Show Cause and Motion for Contempt. Your Motion for Contempt will essentially lay out the terms of the Settlement Agreement which your spouse has not followed. These contempt motions are often not quick fixes, unfortunately. For example, let's say the Settlement Agreement called for Husband to refinance the home loan to remove Wife's name within 12 months of the entry of judgment of dissolution of marriage. Husband doesn't refinance, so Wife files a Show Cause Order and Motion for Contempt. In that Contempt motion Wife requests, of course, that Husband do what he originally agreed to - refinance the mortgage. Wife will probably also request attorney fees and court costs be reimbursed to her because, after all, why should she be financially harmed due to the ex-spouse's failure to do what he agreed and promised to do? My experience is that you'll generally be successful in recouping these expenses, but how long it takes to actually collect is another question. If, in this example, the ex-spouse continues to ignore the court order and does not refinance, he will open himself up to court-ordered sanctions/fines and, in severe cases, even jail time.
About 30 days after you are divorced, a certified Judgment of Dissolution will arrive. This Judgment will have a embroidered court seal and is court certified or, in other words, "official." You'll bring the certified Judgment to the Social Security Office in order to legally change your name. If you lose your certified copy, you can always purchase a new one from the circuit clerk of the county in which the Judgment was entered. If your Judgment was out of St. Louis County, as many of my cases are, purchasing instructions can be found here.
For parties with jointly titled assets and debts, the finalizing of the divorce often means the start of some substantial post-dissolution work. Most couples will choose to refinance the jointly titled debts they have in order to remove the other party. Some, however, explicitly declare that such refinance will not be required for some loans. For example, I have had many cases where the parties had a car loan in both parties names, for example, which only had a small balance remaining. Given the legwork and hassle involved in refinancing, the parties simply state that refinance of that particular loan is not required and that once it is satisfied and paid-in-full, the party who was not awarded the car in the divorce will sign over title.
Mortgages are generally a different story, as unless the home is being sold, the party who takes the home almost without question will be required by the settlement agreement to refinance the mortgage. If that refinance does not occur, the party who does not take the home will likely find their credit to be pretty jammed up in the event they attempt to finance a home of their own. Generally, along with the refinance of the home loan, the party who has forfeited their rights in the home in the settlement agreement will execute a quit-claim deed, releasing his or her rights to the party remaining in the home, and removing his or her name from the title of the home as well.
In Missouri, you should wait 30-days after the date your divorce is granted to get re-married. Please keep my card on hand, just in case.
In order for your divorce to be uncontested, you and your spouse need to agree on every aspect of your divorce. When it comes to the allocation of assets and debt, here is what must be agreed upon prior to hiring your uncontested divorce lawyer:
If you have a house (or condo, real estate, etc.), you have to figure out what's going to happen with it. Your options would be, Husband gets it, Wife gets it, house is sold, or, although probably not ideal but I have seen it a few times, both parties walk away and allow it to get into foreclosure. If one of the parties is taking the home (the "Husband gets it" or "Wife gets it" scenario), then you have to figure out how the non-taking party will get their marital equity out of the home. If there is no equity, which is unfortunately somewhat common these days, then it's easy, there is no marital equity to divide so the non-taking party just leaves. If there is equity in the home, then the parties need to figure out what an appropriate buyout amount would be and how that buyout will be paid to the non-taking party. Often times this can be done when the party who is taking the home refinances the mortgage (which is generally done to remove the non-taking party's name from the home loan).
What if you're unable to get the cash necessary to pay a cash buyout? When the party taking the home is unable to get the liquid cash necessary to pay the non-taking party a buyout, the parties may avoid a cash buyout by instead agreeing to an uneven distribution of the marital equity of a different asset. A simple example helps clarify this: let's say Husband and Wife own a home with $100,000 in marital equity, that Husband has an IRA worth $50,000, and that Wife has a 401(k) worth $150,000. For our example, we'll assume that the entirety of each asset was accrued during the course of the marriage. The parties agree that they want to divide the marital assets equally, and that Husband will remain in the home. If it turns out that Husband can't get $50,000 cash to buyout Wife's one-half share of the home, the parties in this example could instead agree that Husband takes the home outright ($100,000) and his IRA outright ($50,000) and Wife takes the entirety of her 401(k). Then, as you can see, without a single dollar changing hands, each party will receive $150,000 in marital assets/equity, which is the 50/50 split that the parties in this example desired.
Parties in an uncontested divorce must determine who gets what vehicle(s) and who pays for the loans, if any, associated with those cars, boats, etc. Further, the parties will need to come to an agreement as to whether or not jointly-titled vehicle loans will need to be refinanced in order to remove the non-taking party's name from the note.
Are there joint accounts? If so, how are the contents of those joint accounts going to be divided? I have had many uncontested divorce cases where one party has gotten a new bank account in their sole name, and the other party has continued to use the joint account as his or her account. In this scenario, assuming there is no division of the account contents, we can simply direct the party who is not using or taking the joint account post-dissolution to remove his or her name from that joint account. Of course, the party with the account in his or her sole name takes their account post-dissolution. If the parties are dividing the contents of the joint account and thereafter closing the account, that is fine too, but you will need to determine what percentage of the joint account each party will take as his or her sole and separate property.
You will need to figure out who is getting which investments and who is taking what retirement accounts. If the parties are dividing a retirement account, they will want to determine if a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), will be necessary to facilitate the division of the account. If a QDRO is required, the Marital Settlement Agreement should outline how the costs associated with drafting and administering the QDRO will be split between the parties.
I find that parties going through an uncontested divorce have usually been separated for awhile, and often already live in separate residences. In these situations, the parties will have generally already divided the household items, furniture, etc. If that division has already occurred, most parties will be comfortable enough with a settlement provision simply saying something along the lines of, "Wife is awarded everything in her possession and/or in her residence and Husband is awarded everything in his possession and/or in his residence." If the parties still have co-mingled household items, furniture, and personal items, then the parties should have a list of what each party will take after the divorce. The descriptions of these items and furniture, which you will provide to your attorney, should be specific enough so that if there is a dispute in the future, the item description clearly articulates which household good or piece of furniture is being identified.
The parties in an uncontested divorce will need to decide who is paying what loans. Jointly-titled loans provide an additional layer of complexity, as the parties will need to address whether refinancing of those loans will be required to remove the non-taking party's name from the note and, if so, how long the taking party will have to complete that refinance process.
Who is going to pay which credit cards? If you have credit cards where both parties are co-borrowers, I am of the opinion that those cards should be given prioritizing in being paid off, so that they can be cancelled or, alternatively, so that the non-responsible party can be removed as a co-borrower from the card. I have had clients and their spouse elect to each take out a loan or a credit card in their respective sole name to each pay off one-half of a joint credit card. This allows the debt to be apportioned in the divorce and provides that neither party will be adversely affected by the other party's failure to pay their 50% share.
First, let's clear up a common misconception about tax status and divorce. I don't know where some of these attorneys get their information, but I can't tell you how many times I've had clients tell me that a previous attorney they spoke with told them that their tax status was determined by how many days of the tax year they were married, or whether the marriage lasted past July 1st, or some other arbitrary calculation. Here is the rule: your tax status is determined on December 31st, period. If you are divorced on December 30, 2014, you cannot file a married tax return for tax year 2014. If you're divorced on January 1, 2015, you have the option to file married returns for 2014. Easy as that. Parties who are divorcing towards the end of the year often have me "sit" on their divorce well past when I would normally submit the case for finalizing, because they are wanting to push back the date of divorce to after the new year, so that they can file joint returns.
Couples looking for an uncontested divorce need to consider things they may have done throughout the year that could lead to tax ramifications on one party or the other. For example, let's say in February that Husband and Wife decided to buy a house. In order to purchase this home, Husband took an early withdraw from his 401k. The year goes on and the parties decide to divorce. Their divorce is finalized in October and nothing is mentioned about the taxes that will have to be paid on Husband's 401(k) withdraw. The parties, being single on December 31st, file single tax returns. Husband learns that his tax liability includes the taxes from the withdraw from the 401(k). The resolution to this scenario, whatever it may end up being, is not important to communicating the message that the parties must consider (and address in the Settlement Agreement) what "actions," like a 401(k) withdraw, may have occurred during the course of the marriage that will affect the tax liability of one of the parties.
In order to have an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse must have an agreement to maintenance, otherwise known as spousal support, otherwise known as alimony. You can, of course, simply agree that neither party will pay or receive any maintenance. If you and your spouse agree maintenance is appropriate in your case, however, then you must also decide (1) how much that monthly maintenance obligation will be; (2) how long the maintenance obligation will go for (or, if it is indefinite); and (3) what triggering events, beyond the statutory defined events of re-marriage of the party receiving maintenance or death of either party, will automatically terminate the maintenance obligation. Parties should remember that maintenance payments will be considered taxable income for the party receiving the maintenance and a tax deduction for the party paying the maintenance.
Parties to an uncontested divorce must figure out child custody arrangements. This requires the parties to formulate a exchange schedule. A good exchange schedule will outline which parent gets the children on what days and at what times and also who is doing the dropping off, picking up, etc. In short, the visitation schedule should clearly explain who gets the children when, and how the children are transported to the party taking custody. The parties will also need a holiday exchange schedule which, just like it sounds, lays out which parent has custody of the children for holidays. I find that clients seem to struggle with the idea of what the holiday schedule should look like, so I often draft a generic schedule that provides a good jumping off point.
In order for your divorce to be uncontested, you and your spouse must have an agreement as to the support of the minor children. The parties can have an alternative agreement that does not call for child support being paid to either party by either party, but the arrangement must be in the best interests of the children. Aside from traditional monthly child support, the parties may also elect to divide other expenses outside of that child support amount. For example, the parties may agree that Mother will pay to Father a monthly child support sum of $200. These parties may also agree that they will split the cost of the child's orthodontic care, child's college education, and rugby equipment. Other considerations that will need to be addressed and agreed upon include who will be paying for and covering the children for health and dental insurance, if applicable, which parent will claim the children as dependents for tax purposes (you can also alternate year-to-year), and how day care expenses will be divided, to name a few.
You need to be comfortable with the level of involvement from your uncontested divorce lawyer. Your attorney for an uncontested divorce will not be resolving arguments you and your spouse get into about who should get what car. Your lawyer will not be searching for hidden accounts or subpoenaing records from banks and employers. The information you provide me about your case, including the details of your property, debt, income, etc, will be the only information that I use when drafting your divorce pleadings. There is absolutely no discovery done by your attorney in an uncontested divorce case. If your spouse has a history of hiding cash in bank accounts in the Caymans, an uncontested divorce may not be for you.