Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)

Dissolution is just another name for divorce. It is the legal ending of a marriage. A divorce case is decided by a judge without a jury. In Missouri, either the husband or the wife must have lived in the state for ninety (90) days before the divorce can be filed. In Missouri, one spouse does not typically have to prove that the other is at fault in order to get a divorce. A judge can consider fault, however, in deciding on the issues of child custody, maintenance, or division of property if they are relevant.

If your spouse files for a divorce, you will get a summons and a petition. If you do nothing in response, the judge will decide the case, and you may not have any say in what happens. Therefore, you should consult a lawyer to ensure that you serve your own best interests in the divorce. Your lawyer may file an answer for you within thirty (30) days after you receive the summons. You may contest the divorce, custody, child support, or how the property is to be divided.


Missouri law provides for a specific cause of action to determine a parent-child relationship for parents of children that are born outside of marriage. This is called an action for establishment of Parentage. The most common type of action is that to determine the father-child relationship, called an action for Declaration of Paternity, but it is possible to bring an action for determination of the mother-child relationship as well. Actions for Paternity are increasingly more common in today’s society, and they are a very important tool to unmarried parents, particularly fathers. Without marriage or a judicial declaration of paternity, a father’s parental rights are just short of non-existent. Not only will the action formally recognize a father’s relationship to a child, but the action can be combined with actions for custody and child support.

Child Custody

Either one of the separated parents may petition a court for custody of the child[ren]. In the case of both parents seeking custody of the child[ren], the judge will be particularly concerned about what is best for the children rather than 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. In making his/her determination, the judge will consider: (1) the wishes of each parent, (2) the wishes of the child[ren], depending on how old he/she/they are, (3) where the child[ren] will get along better, (4) and the best interests of the child[ren].

Joint legal custody is a way parents share the decision-making responsibilities and rights regarding the child[ren]. Joint physical custody involves parents sharing the time spent with the child[ren] (this can mean that the child[ren] spend equal time with each parent, but it does not have to). Supervised visitation means that the non-custodial parent may not spend time alone with the child[ren]. Further, it usually means that the non-custodial parent may visit the child[ren] at a particular time.

Visitation rights may not be denied to the non-custodial parent even if he/she is not paying child support. If the non-custodial parent is being denied access to the child[ren], he/she may seek a court order defining his/her visitation rights. Violation of this court order will result in the custodial parent being held in contempt of court.

Child Support

Most jurisdictions have child support guidelines in effect, which provide a formula for calculating child support based on a proportion of each parent's gross income. These guidelines are applied unless a party can show that application of the guidelines would be unjust and inappropriate in a particular case. Generally, child support payments are for the ordinary expenses of food, shelter, clothing, education, and medication needs for the child[ren] only.

Making child support a contested issue can be avoided, in addition to the legal expense of litigating this issue before a judge, by both parents agreeing to the appropriate amount of child support and making this agreement part of a marital separation agreement. Payments automatically terminate when the child[ren] reaches the age of majority, dies, or becomes emancipated. Additionally, the parent required to pay child support cannot deduct the amount of those payments from his/her income taxes. However, a parent who pays more than half of the actual costs of child support can claim the child[ren] as dependent[s] to save money on taxes. Finally, the court that issues the original child support has continuing jurisdiction to modify the order as conditions warrant.

Modification of Decrees

An original child support award can be modified upon the showing of changed circumstances. For example, the custodial parent could petition the court to increase the amount of child support owed if the non-custodial parent receives a substantial increase income. For the same reason, the non-custodial parent can petition the court to reduce child support payments if the custodial parent receives a substantial inheritance. Neither example is the only example for which a parent can petition the court to modify a child support order.


Adoption is often a cause for celebration among families. However, without the guidance of a knowledgeable adoption attorney, it could cause more heartache and stress than joy. In addition to negotiating and drafting all necessary documents, a lawyer can work with you on issues such as termination of parental rights, child custody modifications, child support issues and other concerns. The continued well-being of the child, whether he/she is a new baby or an older child, should be promoted throughout the entirety of the adoption process. You should feel comfortable and like you are in a supportive atmosphere while going through the adoption process.

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Disclaimer: Jeffrey R. Kays provides the information in this web site for informational purposes only. The information does not constitute legal advice. The use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. Further communication with our attorneys through the web site and e-mail may not be considered as confidential or privileged. Please contact our attorneys if you wish to discuss in more detail the contents of this web site.