If you are in St. Louis and are confronted with a divorce or child custody case, then you are likely going to be spending some time in the family court system. As a St. Louis family law attorney, we work through the Court system with our clients. The Court system may be simple for your family law matter or it may be a bit more complex.
Let’s explore how to identify the type of case you will have and how it will be handled in the court systems in and around the St. Louis area.
What is Included in Family Law?
Family law is an area of law that helps married couples through divorces and legal separations, as well as helps non-married couples through paternity, custody and child support cases. Cases can also involve name changes, domestic violence, grandparents rights and adoptions.
If you reside in St. Louis, then we would generally need information on whether you are seeking a divorce, which can involve both property and child custody aspects. Or, if your case just involves child custody, we would be pursuing a custody and support case, potentially with a paternity component.
What Happens in Family Court?
In the St. Louis County Family Court, the attorneys and Judges will guide your case through the Court system until you reach resolution. There are 10 Judges or Commissioners in St. Louis County, most with years of experience, and they have the authority to enter Court Orders that affect your family unit in any of the areas of family law.
How Do We Start a Family Law Case?
In the St. Louis County Circuit Court, you would either represent yourself or contact a law office to hire a St. Louis family law attorney. For purposes of this explanation, let’s assume you hire a St. Louis family law attorney. The lawyer you choose would gather information from you and then prepare the pleadings to for your case to be filed. Once the pleadings are prepared, they should be sent to you for final review.
Time to File with Help From Your St. Louis Family Law Attorney
Once you have approved the pleadings, you will be ready to move forward with opening your case. You will likely be filing one of the following:
Petition for Divorce – This pleading or document will ask the court to dissolve your marriage, while also asking for specific requests related to property and debt division, child custody and support, and potentially spousal support.
Paternity Petition – This pleading will request the Court make a legal finding that you are the natural father of a minor child, and that you be awarded custody and support rights for that child.
Child Custody and Child Support Petition – This document will ask the court to order a specific custody designation for your child, such as joint legal and joint physical custody, as well as a custody schedule and child support terms.
Petition for Change of Name – This request will ask the court to legally change your name so that you can use a new name on all legal documents and in your day-to-day life.
Petition for Order of Protection – A request for an Order of Protection asks the Judge to Order that an alleged abuser be restricted from having contact or communication with you.
Motion to Modify Custody or Support – This Motion asks the Court to change the terms of a previously entered custody or support Judgment.
The Court Process with your St. Louis Family Law Attorney
Once your chosen Petition or Motion has been filed, then it is assigned a case number and assigned to a specific Judge. The case is now open with the Court and we can proceed with personal service on the opposing party. Any case that has an adverse party will generally require personal service of process. Once the other party is served, they are required to file an answer or reply with the Court.
Family Law Court Dates
After that initial phase of service and pleadings, if your case is still not settled, we would move into the litigation phase. This phase will encompass most of your case. Depending on the Court where your case is being heard, there will be conferences set on a regular schedule. In St. Louis County, for example, settlement conferences are set every six to eight weeks throughout your case to keep you on track.
Settlement conferences are an opportunity to touch base with the Judge and get information from the Judge about the stickier issues in your case. The Judge may weigh in quite a bit or take a more hands off approach.
Family Law Discovery
While working through the litigation phase of your case, your St. Louis family law attorney may ask if you want to conduct discovery. For a case such as a name change, no discovery is best. For a complex divorce though, you may require substantial discovery which may include subpoenaing records, hiring top experts, or conducting depositions.
The more knowledge and information you can uncover, the more leverage you gain for a favorable outcome.
Coming to a Resolution
At our Saint Louis family law firm, we always tell clients that your case can be resolved in one of two ways. Either you settle the case, which means you come to an agreement with the opposing party on all contested issues, or you proceed to a trial and let the Judge decide the contested issues.
Most parties end up reaching settlement, as trials are expensive, stressful and puts the decision making in someone else’s hands. It is better for you to agree to the terms of your parenting plan or separation agreement, rather than let the Judge decide.
If you need legal advice on family law issues, reach out to a St. Louis family law attorney at our firm and we can discuss the legal process.