I grew up in Ballwin. When I heard about a family dealing with divorce, it was very upsetting. It meant everything was changing for that family. And at times it seemed very unexpected. One day you see a neighbor shopping at the Schnucks on Manchester, and the next day you hear they are being served with divorce papers. People throughout St. Louis County are dealing with marital issues every day. While working with a Ballwin, Missouri divorce lawyer can help reduce the stress, the process is still terrifying and confusing for those going through it.
Divorce proceedings can include negotiating the custody of a child, child support issues, and property division. Legal representation from a family law attorney can help you wade through divorce laws and file for divorce or respond to divorce.
I’ve Been Served with Divorce Papers. What Next?
If you have been served with a summons for a dissolution of marriage case, then your spouse has filed to end your marriage. Since Ballwin, Missouri is in St. Louis County, the case will be open in the St. Louis County Circuit Court in Clayton.
At this point, you can choose to represent yourself or you can find an attorney. There is merit to both options. Depending on your assets, representing yourself might make sense. If you have not been married long or you and your spouse have not acquired many assets or debts, then it might make sense to save the money and go it alone.
However, if you have a long marriage or have acquired some marital property and debts, then it generally makes a ton of sense to at least meet with a Ballwin Missouri divorce lawyer to get some feedback.
Will I Have to go to Court?
Once you have chosen a route to go down as far as representation, then you need to file your Answer with the Court. As previously discussed you do that alone or through an attorney. You must file within 30 days though or you will be found to be in default.
After your Answer is filed then you and your attorney are then looking at where the case looks to be headed. Cases are resolved either through settlement or through a trial. If your case seems friendly and everyone is working together to settle the terms quickly, then you will likely never have to appear in Court.
If the case is in higher conflict or some of the issues are contested then appearing in Court for at least a conference or two is likely. The lower the conflict means the less chance to appear in Court.
What Will Happen to My Property?
If your property was earned or obtained during the marriage then it is subject to division during the divorce process. Either you and your spouse will agree to a fair division or a family court Judge will decide on an equitable division. While Missouri is an equitable distribution state, many Judges stay pretty close to an equal division. This does not necessarily mean every asset is split down the middle though.
Maybe you have a house off Big Bend, a checking account at the Commerce Bank up the street, and a 401(k) from your job at Mercy. You and your spouse might agree that you will keep your entire 401(k) and she will keep the house. The equity in the house may be of similar value to the 401(k) so while the assets are not divided down the middle, the total division is still fair.
What If My Spouse Cheated?
Misconduct during a marriage can definitely play a role in a dissolution case, but it is not typically as big a factor as clients would hope. For example, cheating is a really terrible thing for a spouse to find out about or experience. If a party has proof his or her spouse cheated, they can ask the Court to take that into account. However, even if the Judge does consider the infidelity, it will likely lead to a few percentage points of property division in your favor.
Abuse can be a more substantial factor. And abuse seems to play a bit more of a role than infidelity. While there is not necessarily a scale for which type of misconduct is most consequential in a dissolution or legal separation case, many Judges do consider abuse heavily. The more severe the abuse and the more likely the abuser will face consequences from the Court.
When potential clients come into the office, many of them are very curious about how they can exclude certain properties from being divided by the Court. As attorneys at a family law firm, we often give a simplified answer that property from before the marriage and property that was inherited and kept separate will remain separate.
While it is true that property from before the marriage is separate property, it is not nearly this simple. Dividing property during dissolution is complex and you’ll need to find a Ballwin Missouri Divorce Lawyer that is familiar with the Missouri case law for property division.
Property can have multiple facets. A house for example can have a separate portion from a down payment before the marriage, a marital portion from the equity paydown during the marriage, and a marital portion from an increase in value due to renovations paid for with marital income. As you can see, that is a complex calculation to figure out how much each party should receive.
Won’t My Spouse Have to Pay for My Attorney?
Attorney’s fees can be awarded by the Court during the case and at the end of the case. When fees are awarded during the case, it is usually in the form of a Pendente Lite (PDL) hearing award of fees.
A PDL Order means the Court ordered one party to help the other party with fees during the case so that both parties have the resources to litigate the case. This scenario is more common when one party makes most of the income.
If fees are awarded at the end of the case, it could again be that one spouse makes most of the income, but this is also the time that you will see fees awarded for one party’s misconduct during the marriage. Overall though, fee awards are not as common in divorce cases as you might think or read about on the internet.
Do You Have Other Questions?
As I previously said, I grew up in Ballwin and know what a typical family from that area is dealing with. We are happy to answer any questions about the divorce process. Take it from a Ballwin Missouri divorce attorney, the more information you can collect the better off you are. Consider contacting us today.