When most people think of ending a marriage, divorce is the first thing that comes to mind. Divorce is the conventional legal process of ending a marriage contract, although the process will play out differently for every couple. However, divorce is not the only method of ending a marriage in Kansas City, MO. It is vital for everyone to understand the different ways to end a marriage and the legal implications of each of these options.
A typical divorce may not be the best idea for your unique situation. Your marriage may involve factors that you have not considered that could preclude you from a conventional divorce. An experienced Kansas City, MO divorce attorney is your best resource if you want specific advice for handling the legal process of ending your marriage.
Dissolution of Marriage
Divorce, or dissolution of marriage, is the most common way to end a marriage in the US. Missouri is a no-fault state, so it is not necessary for either divorcing spouse to list a specific reason or fault when filing for divorce. In most cases, couples file for divorce due to irreconcilable differences. This means the marriage has broken down past the point of reconciliation, and any further attempts to reconcile would likely cause more harm than good.
The divorce process begins whenever a couple decides it is time to end their marriage. Still, the legal process to dissolve the marriage does not formally start until one of the spouses files a divorce petition with the court. It is a common misconception that the first person to file has a legal advantage, but this is not true — it does not matter which spouse files first. The only requirement for filing a divorce petition in Missouri is that one of the spouses must have lived in Missouri for at least 90 days.
Once the court receives the divorce petition, they will serve divorce papers to the other spouse. At this point, the divorce can go many ways. In the rarest cases, divorcing spouses do not contest the proposed terms of their divorces. In these situations, the process plays out rather quickly. Usually, however, the divorcing couple will disagree about one or more aspects of their divorce and must settle the matter through mediation or litigation.
One of the most explored alternatives to the conventional dissolution of marriage is the legal separation process. In some cases, legal separation can act as a preliminary step in the divorce process, allowing the couple to sort out financial matters, alimony, and childcare agreements in advance of their actual divorce proceedings. In other cases, legal separation can allow a couple to remain legally married for practical reasons while allowing them to live separately. This is common among older couples who decide they no longer wish to be married but want to take advantage of the practical benefits of shared health insurance or similar.
Legal separation can provide a valuable “cooldown” period that provides both spouses time to reflect on the practical matters of divorce. In Missouri, a legal separation order lasts for 90 days before it converts to a divorce order, but either spouse may file a motion within this timeframe to have the legal separation order set aside. Ultimately, legal separation can either provide the time and space needed for a divorcing couple to reevaluate their desire to divorce and allow them to reconcile, or it could streamline an impending divorce.
Annulment is a unique process that mirrors dissolution in several ways. However, a divorce ends a legal marriage, while annulment is a legal vehicle for rendering an illegitimate marriage null and void. Once an annulment is complete, it is as if the marriage never existed from a legal standpoint. However, it is important to refrain from conflating a religious annulment with a legal annulment.
Missouri state law only allows legal annulment under very specific conditions. The marriage must be illegitimate in one of the following ways to qualify for annulment:
- A bigamous marriage is illegitimate in Missouri. If an individual discovers their current spouse was already legally married to someone else and did not divorce their previous spouse before marrying again, they can file for annulment on the grounds of bigamy.
- A marriage is invalid if both spouses were under the age of 18 and did not have parental consent to marry.
- Missouri does not allow relatives to marry. A marriage is invalid due to kinship when the marriage includes a parent and child, siblings, an uncle/aunt and niece/nephew, a grandparent and grandchild of any degree, or first cousins.
- Missouri state law does not recognize any common law marriages entered after 1921 unless such a marriage was recorded in a state that recognizes common law marriage.
- It is possible to secure an annulment for “lack of capacity”. This means that one of the spouses lacked the mental capacity to legally agree to marry. This reasoning can also apply to impotence if the impotence existed at the time of the marriage and is permanent and incurable.
- Missouri law considers a marriage invalid if one of the spouses entered the marriage under duress or the presence of fraud. For example, if an element of the marital contract was hidden or altered without the knowledge of one of the spouses, the marriage is invalid.
It is important to remember that annulment is very different from divorce. If the couple had children during the marriage, or if any children are born within 300 days of the annulment, child custody and support will come into play as they would for any unmarried couple. Annulment does not nullify parental obligations to illegitimate children in the eyes of the law.
Contact a Kansas City, MO Family Law Attorney
Exploring dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or annulment can be very difficult without professional legal guidance. If you believe that your situation is unique or that a conventional divorce would not serve your best interests, contact an experienced Kansas City, MO family law attorney to determine your best available options.