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Whether your wedding was at The Conservatory in St. Charles, the Soulard Preservation Hall in St. Louis or the Church On The Rock in St. Peters, you were probably hoping it would last forever. Whether you are asking for a divorce and are the petitioner, or your spouse is asking for a divorce and you’re the respondent, the divorce process can be traumatic. If you have children, the distress can be magnified. Learning about the divorce process and your options is one way of lessening the pain you may be feeling. Many find comfort in knowledge.
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When a couple decides to divorce, even when both parties agree to the divorce, the children can suffer emotions ranging from depression and withdrawal to anger and acting-out behaviors. One way to minimize the impact divorce has upon children is to behave respectfully to your spouse, and work toward a mutually acceptable child custody agreement and parenting plan.
Child Custody In St. Louis
There are two types of child custody and either one of them can be sole or joint. Joint legal custody is typical, and it means that both parents have the ability to make decisions regarding the religious upbringing, education and medical care of their children.
Physical custody is increasingly a joint award rather than a sole award. A typical arrangement is for the child or children to spend every other week with each parent and alternate holidays. Vacation time is negotiable and may depend upon the age of the children and their summer activities.
Divorcing parents with children will be required to agree on a parenting plan. The plan covers the schedule of the children, as well as other factors, including how communication will occur, what extracurricular activities are permitted and who pays for them, how disagreements between the parents will be resolved and how vacation time is handled. The parenting plan would even include an agreement regarding which parent drives the children during the physical custody transfers.
If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the court may order you to attend mediation until the situation is resolved. Failing that, the court will make a decision on child custody and the parenting plan, and it will make that determination according to what it believes is the child’s best interest.
Child Custody Modifications
If there is one constant in life, it is change. When a life situation changes, the child custody, parenting plan and child support determinations may need to change. When changes are minor, the couple can simply make the adjustment themselves. When changes are significant, the court will need to approve the modifications. Situations that could result in a child custody modification include:
- Relocation – if either parent wishes to move out of St. Louis or across the state line into East St. Louis and Illinois
- Special needs of the child – including medical issues, behavioral issues and others
- Medical condition of the parent – including personal injuries due to accidents as well as disease or a chronic condition
- Loss of employment
- Change of employment – including a new job location, new hours or other similar factors
- Care for extended family members – when an ex-spouse needs to care for an aging parent for example
St. Louis Child Support Help
The court assumes that both parents will be partially responsible for supporting their children. In some instances, where there is a disparity in income, and unequal time-sharing in terms of physical custody, one parent may be required to pay the other parent for child support. If the couple has joint physical custody, and earn roughly the same amount of money, child support may not be ordered.
The state of Missouri has a child support calculator that can provide a rough guideline regarding what child support may be ordered. An experienced divorce attorney could provide you with a more accurate estimation.
Child support lasts until age 22 if the child is still attempting to complete high school. Otherwise, child support ends when the child turns 18, joins the military, marries or dies.
Child Support Enforcement
As tempting as it may be, you are not permitted to withhold child support payments if your ex-spouse is not permitting reasonable visitation. Likewise, you may not withhold visitation if your ex-spouse is not making child support payments. The two issues are completely separate in the eyes of the court.
The court may assist a parent who needs to collect delinquent child support payments. Among the child enforcement tools at the court’s disposal are the ability to:
- Garnish wages
- Withhold federal or state income tax refunds
- File a lien against property
- Report the delinquent parent to the credit bureau
- Suspend or revoke a driver’s license, recreational licenses, professional or occupational licenses
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One topic that is likely to be contentious during divorce is the division of marital property. People become attached to their things, and in many instances both spouses will want to keep the same item. The court is primarily concerned with the monetary value of the property, and will make its decisions accordingly. Missouri is an equitable distribution state meaning the property is divided in a way that is fair and equitable, although not necessarily equal.
All of the assets and debts that were acquired during the marriage will be divided between you and your spouse, in addition to the debts. Anything you owned prior to marriage or inherited during the marriage can remain yours, provided it has not been mingled with marital property. There are instances where the court could award more or less than 50 percent of the property. For example, if a spouse was a stay-at-home parent, he or she could obtain more of the property. Likewise, if one spouse committed adultery, or gambled away some retirement savings, that spouse would receive less than 50 percent.
The court prefers that couples come to their own property division agreement, and if they do not, the court will make a determination. An experienced divorce attorney can be very helpful during these negotiations.
Alimony Or Spousal Maintenance
As with property division, the court will take into consideration the prior contribution of each spouse to the marriage and the earnings when making an alimony or spousal maintenance determination. Alimony is no longer guaranteed, nor is it always permanent. Factors a court will consider when making a spousal maintenance determination include:
- Each party’s income-earning ability
- Potential retraining or education time for the alimony recipient
- The alimony payer’s ability to meet his or her own needs when making the maintenance payments
- The alimony recipient’s age and health
- The couple’s standard of living when married
- The length of the marriage
- Whether the payments need to be temporary, short term or long term
The court will also look at whether or not there has been any wrongdoing during the marriage such as accumulating gambling debt, adultery or spending down the marital assets.
Divorce And Bankruptcy
When the court assigns an equitable portion of the assets to each spouse, it will also assign a portion of the debts to each spouse. The spouse who is the most able to pay the debt may receive more of it, in exchange for a higher percentage of the assets. If your spouse is a poor money manager, or has a gambling addiction for example, he or she may be in danger of filing for bankruptcy. If this happens post-divorce, it is likely that you could suffer some of the consequences as well. The creditors don’t care if your spouse was supposed to pay off the credit card. If your ex-spouse defaults, the creditors will come after you as well.
If divorce and bankruptcy are likely to intersect, it would be wise to consult with a divorce attorney who has bankruptcy experience as well, or has a network of bankruptcy attorneys with whom to work.
In contrast to a couple on the verge of bankruptcy, a couple with a high net worth may also be facing a very unique set of problems. If you are facing a high-asset divorce, look for an attorney who has dealt with the following types of issues:
- Business valuation
- Small business or family business ownership
- Silent partners in a Limited Liability Corporation
- Stock options
- Offshore bank accounts
- Forensic accounting
- Patents and intellectual property, if appropriate
- Multiple real estate listings
- Rental property, if appropriate
- Hard to value items such as rare antiques or collectible items
While you may not be facing all of these issues in your divorce, you may want an attorney who has.
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If domestic violence or abuse has occurred during your marriage, you should be aware that filing for divorce is often a stimulus to an escalation of abuse. If you are the one who has been a victim of domestic violence, there are legal actions you can take to protect yourself.
If you have been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, your parental rights could be in jeopardy.
In either of these cases, it would be wise to obtain an attorney who has helped people in a situation similar to yours.
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Some divorces may seem simple at the outset, and then become complicated when it comes to dividing the assets or working out a satisfactory parenting plan. An attorney can not only act as your guide through the legal process, an experienced divorce lawyer can also work to keep the emotions at bay while protecting your interests. You already know your spouse in terms of personality and his or her potential post-divorce goals. What you may not know is how divorce can put people under pressure so that they do things they might not normally do. Your attorney is your protector and adviser in those instances.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
One of the most important factors to look at when selecting an attorney, is whether the attorney focuses on family law in general and divorce in particular. Divorce law is not like other areas of law in many ways, and divorce in Missouri is significantly different from divorce in Illinois or Kansas. The decisions you make during the divorce process can have lifelong implications.
Look for an attorney who practices in St. Louis and who has experience with divorces like yours. Some attorneys represent primarily men or women, although most represent either the husband or the wife.
Choose a lawyer who has experience, and with whom you can communicate well. You can tell a lot by talking to someone. Make certain you have a satisfactory conversation with your attorney before hiring him or her. For the next several months you’ll be communicating frequently, so make sure you’re being heard.
At Divorce Knowledgebase, our family law attorneys work proactively with you to understand your case and chart a course of action that makes the most sense for your situation. To begin the divorce process or learn more about the legal steps, fill out the free case review form and we’ll put you in contact with an experienced attorney close to you.