Family law in Missouri is a general grouping for all legal practice areas that are handled in the family court division of your local court. Family law includes divorce, legal separation, paternity, child custody, child support, domestic violence, name changes, grandparents rights and modifications. Some law firms would also argue that adoptions and guardianships would fall under the family law in Missouri umbrella, even though they are handled in the juvenile court and the probate court respectively.
Simply though, family law is any Court case that directly impacts the details of your family structure. While all court cases will affect you and your family in certain ways, such as a personal injury case dealing with injuries to a family member, a family court case is more directly involved in your family unit such as a divorce ending a marriage.
What Type of Family Law Case Do I Have?
While there are a number of variations of family law cases, most of them are going to fall under one of two separate umbrellas, with some other standalone types of cases. The majority of cases will be cases involving married couples and cases involving unmarried couples:
- Married Case Types – This umbrella includes divorce cases, legal separation cases and modifications of custody or support stemming from the final divorce Judgment.
- Unmarried Case Types – This umbrella includes paternity cases, as well as general child custody and child support cases where paternity has already been established. It would also include modification of child custody and child support cases.
- Other Case Types – This umbrella would include name changes, grandparents rights cases, domestic violence cases and then cases in other areas of the courthouse like adoptions and guardianships.
Now that you understand the general groupings, here is a brief overview of the specific case types you may be dealing with:
Divorce – the legal process for ending your marriage, including division of property, custody, and support
Adoption – the formal process for a non-parent becoming the parent of a child
Child Custody – a family court case dealing with the care and control of a minor child
Legal Separation – the procedure for separating from your spouse without officially divorcing
Child Support – a case dealing with the payment of support for a child from one parent to the other
Name Change – the official change of your first or last name or the change of name for one of your minor children
Prenuptial Agreements – a contract signed by a couple prior to marriage detailing the terms of a future divorce
Domestic Violence/Orders of Protection – the legal process for seeking protection for an abusive situation
Paternity – the legal procedure for the establishing of a male as the natural father of a child
Grandparents Rights – a case for visitation rights for the natural grandparents of a child
Custody and Support Modifications – a case that requests the court change the terms of custody or support that have already been ordered
Statutes for Family Law in Missouri
Family law is a broader topic than the singular case type of divorce or name change for example. Since family law does include many types of cases, it also means that many laws or statutes in Missouri can apply to the various case types.
For example, chapter 452 of the Missouri revised statutes states the rules for divorce cases. Chapter 210 outlines the law for paternity and child custody matters.
The Missouri Supreme Court Rules also outline the details of some family matters under Missouri Law. Rule 95 details how a name change case is processed in the Missouri Court system.
The individual circuit courts also have local rules that can apply to specific case types. For example, the St. Louis County Circuit Court has a number of local rules that apply to all divorce cases such as the parties to a divorce being required to exchange tax returns during the case.
Always make sure to understand the statutes, state rules, and local rules that may apply to your case.
Family Court in Missouri
How do these family law cases actually proceed through the court system. In Missouri, the structure of “family court” will depend from local court to local court.
Many big counties have large dedicated family courts. For example, in St. Louis County there is a family court with roughly 10 Judges who exclusively hear family law matters. The family court divisions are all in the same section of the St. Louis Courthouse. St. Louis City and St. Charles County are examples of other counties that have exclusive family court divisions.
Many smaller counties do not necessarily dedicate entire divisions or Judges to family court alone. For example, Franklin County only has a handful of Judges. These Judges all hear family law cases, but they also hear other types of cases such as criminal cases.
There are also some mid-sized counties, such as Jefferson County, which handle family law cases in a mixed method. They have Judges that hear mostly family law cases and then they have Judges that hear a mix of family cases as well as other types of cases.
Starting Down the Path
So with all these case types of family law in Missouri, where should someone begin? If you need legal advice, you can typically start with consulting a family law attorney.
Some of these attorneys handle all types of family law cases. Some of these attorneys focus on only certain types of cases, such as dissolution of marriage cases or child custody and support cases. Finding the right lawyer is an important decision, but as long as the attorney regularly practices family law you are taking a good first step.
Once you decide whether you will be proceeding on your own or with legal help, then you can take the crucial step of filing a case with the local court to start seeking court orders.
Family Law Fast Facts
As you start researching family law in general, and your specific case type, please note that there is some information that my make the process easier once you know what to expect:
- You’re not required to have a lawyer. The State of Missouri has a website that explains how to do it alone
- The court system can take a long time. Be prepared for long wait times and a cancelled court date or two
- Not all lawyers are created equal. Find the right fit for your case
- Not all Judges are created equal. Talk to your attorney about using your one change of Judge
Helpful Ideas for the Journey
No matter which type of family law matter you have, the process is stressful if you are not familiar with it. So, consider the following:
- Read and research – educate yourself
- Incorporate your family – it helps to have a support system
- Prepare your finances in advance – this can be an expensive process
- Utilize community resources – counseling and self-care can reduce stress
Time to Take the First Step
Whether you have a complex, high-asset divorce case or a simple name change, a family law firm should be able to help. Our firm is limited to practicing in the St. Louis County region, but we are happy to answer questions from anyone that reaches out.