Missouri Family Law: An Overview
Family matters like marriage, divorce and childcare are heavily influenced by emotions, which can make for messy disputes and total breakdowns. Missouri’s family laws provide rules and regulations that help keep legal proceedings for things like alimony, child support and property disputes focused on resolution and protect each individual family member’s rights.
If you have a family law case in Chesterfield, St. Louis, Kansas City or elsewhere in Missouri, LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo’s Missouri Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family.
If you need help navigating the complex laws governing your case, a Missouri family law attorney can help and treat your case with the sensitivity it deserves.
Missouri Marriage Requirements
As you and your partner are about to take the next step in your relationship, be aware that Missouri prohibits certain marriages. While marriage seems like a private choice, Missouri’s family laws take health, ethical and criminal concerns into consideration. These are the types of marriages Missouri prohibits:
- Marriages to minors under age 15. Minors who are under age 15 must receive approval from a circuit court order to marry. Minors age 15 to 17 must receive consent from a custodial parent or guardian. Adults age 18 and over do not require parental consent.
- Bigamous marriages (i.e. a spouse cannot already be married to a third party).
- Marriage to a spouse who lacks the capacity to consent.
- Marriages between a parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, siblings, aunt/uncle and nephew/niece or first cousins.
Missouri Marriage License
Before your wedding day, you will need to apply for a Missouri marriage license. The license officiates your marriage under Missouri law, which will help you and your partner later when applying for family-exclusive benefits.
You and your partner do not need to be Missouri residents to apply for a Missouri marriage license. To apply, you and your partner will need to appear before a County Recorder or Deputy, provide the requested personal information, complete the application and pay a fee. The marriage license is issued in the same day when you apply and is valid in any Missouri county for 30 days.
Missouri Marriage Dissolution Requirements
Marriages end for a variety of reasons, some of which can lead to complicated legal battles over child custody and property ownership. In Missouri, however, you don’t need to prove a specific reason for a marriage’s end to qualify for a dissolution (i.e. divorce).
Missouri is known as a “no-fault” divorce state. As such, the court only needs to find that a marriage has become irretrievably broken without assigning blame to either spouse. If there’s evidence that a marriage may be salvaged at a later date, the court may grant a legal separation instead of a dissolution.
Distribution of Marital Property in Missouri
If you and your ex can’t agree on how to divide your marital property between yourselves, the court may make the decision for you. While it may seem like the court may make the easy decision to split the difference evenly, Missouri courts may choose to distribute property in uneven proportions based on what’s fair.
An uneven split of your marital property happens because Missouri is not a “community property” state—it doesn’t recognize that each spouse shares equal ownership to marital property.
Instead, Missouri is an “equitable distribution” state. This means that when dividing and distributing marital property fairly, the court considers several factors, including:
- Each spouse’s contributions to the acquisition and valuation of a property.
- Each spouse’s economic and health circumstances during the marriage and after dissolution.
- Child custody arrangements.
- Each spouse’s conduct during the marriage.
- The value of each spouse’s independently-owned nonmarital property. Nonmarital property includes property owned by each party prior to the marriage and acquired during the marriage by gift or inheritance.
When Do I Need a Missouri Family Law Attorney?
Whether you need a family law attorney depends on a number of factors specific to your case. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Few couples need a lawyer to get married but attorneys may be required if there’s a prenuptial agreement involved.
Individuals often benefit from hiring an attorney when dealing with divorce, child support, and especially child custody matters. Because emotions can run high during some divorces, hiring an attorney to negotiate and resolve difficult issues can be invaluable.
Many lawyers offer free initial consultations, so it may be worth your time to speak with an experienced Missouri family law attorney if you have additional questions.