How to File for Legal Separation in Missouri

If you live in Missouri and want out of a marriage, you have the option of getting a legal separation. It's more than just living separately. Legal separation is much different from separation. You can actually think of it as a divorce by another name. The procedure in Missouri mirrors that for divorce. In fact, the Missouri court website says that, in Missouri, legal separation and dissolution of marriage are identical in all respects except that, when the judgment is issued, the parties are still married.

Legal Separation in Missouri

If you want a legal separation in Missouri, it is important to understand exactly what this entails. Like all states, Missouri offers no-fault divorce. That means that a couple can get a divorce without evidence of fault, like infidelity, abuse, abandonment or other bad behavior. In order to get a no-fault divorce in Missouri, the marriage must be irretrievably broken. If the spouse's agree that there is some chance the marriage can be saved, the court may grant a judgment for legal separation instead.

If you are considering filing a petition for legal separation, you should try to get your spouse's agreement first, if possible. That's because your spouse can respond to the filing with a petition for dissolution. If the court finds that the marriage is actually irretrievably broken, it can enter a divorce judgment instead. It is also worth noting that, in Missouri, a decree for legal separation can be transformed into a judgment for dissolution by motion of either spouse.

How to File for Legal Separation in Missouri

Filing a petition for legal separation looks a lot like filing a petition for dissolution of marriage. However, according to the statutes, you must allege that the marriage is not irretrievably broken and that there remains a reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.

Like a petition for dissolution, the petition for legal separation must include the name and residence of each spouse, the length of time each spouse has lived in state and in the county, the date of the marriage and date of separation, information about each child and where each has resided immediately before the petition is filed. It must also include the last four digits of the Social Security number of each spouse and each child. Finally, it must describe arrangements between the spouses about child custody and family support.

You'll have to sign and file the petition with the court. Then you'll need to have it served on your spouse, together with a document called a summons, that officially informs your spouse of the filing.

Parenting Plan

In order to get a judgment for legal separation, you and your spouse must submit a joint parenting plan to the court, setting out child custody, visitation and support matters. The plan should include recommendations about both physical custody and visitation, along with a plan for legal custody, which details how the decision-making rights and responsibilities will be shared between the spouses.

If you can't agree on a parenting plan, the court enters a temporary order for a parenting plan. It will hear all evidence and testimony in the case before it enters a final parenting plan.

Other Legal Separation Issues

You will get a judgment of legal separation sooner if you and your spouse negotiate the financial terms of your separation. If you cannot, the court will hear evidence and make a determination of how property and financial issues should be resolved between the two of you.