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Legal Separation: How to Get It, How to Change It to Divorce in Missouri

Legal Separation: How to Get It, How to Change It to Divorce in MissouriIn Missouri, legal separation is a formalized arrangement similar to divorce, except the separated spouses remain legally married. Issues discussed in divorce, such as property division, spousal maintenance, child custody, and child support, are also tackled in legal separation. Some couples opt for legal separation instead of divorce for religious or financial reasons or if they feel that they may reconcile down the road.

If you’re considering legal separation or are already legally separated and wish to file for divorce, it’s best to consult a trusted Family Law attorney for guidance specific to your situation.

How do I get a legal separation in Missouri?

Getting legally separated in Missouri is similar to getting a divorce. To initiate the legal separation process, one spouse must be a resident in the county for at least 90 days. This spouse must file a petition for “Separate Maintenance” at their county circuit court and then serve the papers to the other party. The responding spouse will then need to file their formal Answer at the court.

From the date of filing, there’s a waiting period of at least 30 days before the court enters a judgment. Family courts in Missouri want to give couples a chance to consider their decision carefully.

During the waiting period, the spouses will likely need to attend a hearing where the judge listens to both parties. The spouses may also undergo mediation and craft a separation settlement agreement for the judge to approve.

The court will grant the final Decree of Separation if it finds that the marriage is not irretrievably broken and can likely be preserved.

Can I change legal separation to divorce?

Missouri allows legally separated couples to pursue divorce if at least 90 days have passed since their legal separation. Either spouse may file a motion with the court to convert the legal separation order into a marriage dissolution decree (divorce). The judge will look for evidence that the marriage is “irretrievably broken” before granting the divorce decree.

Conversely, the couple may decide to get back together after being legally separated. They may request the court to dismiss the existing legal separation order.

Does Missouri require grounds for legal separation?

Missouri does not require spouses to have grounds to file for legal separation. However, if the respondent does not agree with their spouse’s separation petition, the court will look for grounds to proceed with the separation process. Valid grounds for legal separation are similar to those for divorce. They 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 the petition filing
  • The irreparable breakdown of marriage

Legal Separation vs. Divorce: Differences and Considerations

Legal separation is often described as an alternative to divorce, but the two have significant differences that couples should consider.

  • Divorce legally ends the marriage, but legal separation does not. Legal separation is a way of formalizing matters that arise when spouses live apart, such as property division, alimony, and child custody.
  • Divorced individuals are officially unmarried and can thus remarry. Meanwhile, individuals who are legally separated are still legally married and cannot marry someone else.
  • After divorce, each ex-spouse loses their marital rights, such as being next of kin in the event of the other party’s death or emergency. Legal separation may preserve such rights.
  • If divorced spouses wish to get back together in marriage or regain marital privileges, they will need to marry again. On the other hand, legally separated spouses only need to request the court to dissolve their legal separation order.

Contact a Family Law Attorney at Shea Kohl Law

It’s important to get sound legal advice if you’re considering legal separation or divorce. Each has legal implications that could impact your personal and financial life. Talk an experienced divorce lawyer at Shea Kohl Law, a trusted Family Law firm in Missouri that provides practical and efficient counsel on divorce and separation.

Call Shea Kohl Law at (636) 946-9999 or email us for a confidential consultation.

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Shea Kohl Law, LC serves clients in Missouri including St. Charles, Troy and Lincoln and throughout Warren and St. Louis counties. We also serve clients in Illinois.