All of our family law cases in some way relate to divorce, legal separation, orders of protection, child custody, support and/or maintenance (alimony). Becoming a litigant in a family law case presents one of the most significant challenges that a person faces in his or her life, and the challenge often multiplies when the custody of children are at stake. Even when the custody of children is not at stake, an individual's entire financial well-being or personal freedom will often become the central issue.
Technically referred to as "dissolution of marriage" under Missouri law, this is the most common case facing our family law clients. Since Missouri applies a no-fault doctrine, either spouse may obtain a divorce regardless of whether the other consents. However, if the behavior of one party led to the breakdown of the marriage, a court may divide marital assets or award maintenance/alimony based, in part, on the fault of that party. In any divorce proceeding, there exist four possible issues: custody, child support, maintenance and property/debt division.
The term "custody" can refer to physical custody and/or legal custody. Physical custody relates to the actual amount of time, including holidays, weekends, etc., that the child spends with each parent. Legal custody refers to major decision-making of the parents such as religious upbringing, choice of elementary school, etc. There is a judicial preference in favor of giving parents joint decision-making (joint legal custody) except in rare situations where parents are completely unable to communicate with each other or one parent is abusive. While there exists a rebuttable presumption that children have frequent and meaningful contact with each parent, there is no definitive judicial preference that parents share joint physical custody. In many cases, a court will award sole physical custody to one parent (and frequent visitation to the other), while awarding joint legal custody.
How much work is involved in my case?
Divorces, and other family law cases, require an enormous amount of paperwork. A new filing involving custody of children requires the filing of a petition, statement of property and debt, statement of income and expenses, certificate of dissolution, proposed parenting plan, family tracking sheet, and confidential case filing information sheet. These documents require the inclusion of social security numbers, length of marriage, monthly utility bills, bank statements, legal descriptions of real estate, and a multitude of other information. The absence of even one item of information can derail an entire divorce proceeding. In addition, the final divorce decree must divide every marital debt and asset, and specify in detail each party's parenting obligations including custody exchanges on holidays, transportation to and from school, and the payment of medical co-pays.
Child Support and Maintenance
In Missouri, the presumed amount of child support is calculated pursuant to the Form 14. After entering the income figures of each party, cost of health insurance, daycare, etc., and visitation credit, the Form 14 will generate this presumed amount. Unless a court finds a compelling reason to deviate from the presumed amount, the presumed amount will become the amount that the obligor (person paying support) becomes obligated to pay.
Missouri provides less specific guidelines when it comes to awarding maintenance (alimony). Courts will consider the length of the marriage, health of each spouse, relative earning capacity of each spouse, and other factors. Note that in most cases, the Internal Revenue Code allows a person paying maintenance (alimony) to deduct the amount of maintenance paid, while child support payments are non-deductible. Similarly, a person receiving maintenance must treat that amount as income whereas child support received is not taxable.
If you have questions relating to a family law issue, please don't hesitate to send us a direct message or call us at (314) 725-4400. In every case, we provide a free consultation, whether by phone, email or in person.