Divorce Law 101 (Part One)

man and women sitting on a couch

Divorce can be a difficult and confusing process, but if you’re prepared then you can at least minimize some of the stress it causes. Here’s some general information to help you plan for the termination of your marriage.

How the divorce process begins

In Kansas, ending a marriage is called a “divorce,” whereas in Missouri it’s called the “dissolution of marriage.” They basically mean the same thing.

The process begins when one spouse files a petition requesting an end to his or her marriage. Both Kansas and Missouri are “no fault” states, so the petitioner doesn’t need a compelling reason beyond incompatibility as the basis for filing a petition. This means that you don’t have to catch your spouse cheating or engaging in any other inappropriate behavior to end your marriage.

A provisional or “cooling off” period

Sometimes people decide to end their marriage rashly and then regret it later. Both states have what’s known as a “provisional period” that begins right after the petition paperwork is filed.

A divorce or dissolution of marriage cannot be finalized until the end of the provisional period. It’s intended to be a time for the spouses to consider whether there’s another way to resolve their differences without ending their marriage. The provisional period is 30 days in Missouri and 60 days in Kansas.

During the provisional period, each spouse’s attorney will engage in a process called “discovery” in which they’ll research the other party’s finances and request that the other spouse turn over information about his or her assets and debts.

A hearing to reach an amicable separation

After the petition is filed, in Kansas, there’s a provisional hearing in which you, your attorney, your spouse, his or her attorney, and a judge meet at a courthouse to discuss issues such as how to divide the estate, how to resolve mutual financial responsibilities, and to determine child custody arrangements and parenting plans, if applicable. If the parties can’t agree on how to resolve these issues, then the court may determine that mediation must take place.  Alternatively, the parties can agree to mediate as a way to solve their disputes without a trial.

Mediation to avoid an impasse

Mediation is where the parties meet with a certified mediator whose responsibility is to help drive the parties to an agreement. The mediator’s job is not to determine who’s right or wrong, just to see if an agreement can be reached. If an agreement cannot be reached, the mediator will declare an impasse and in Kansas, the judge will set a date for a final contested hearing in which the court will make decisions about these issues for the spouses.  In Missouri, if mediation is not successful, the parties can attempt to continue negotiation through their attorneys, but ultimately, if no agreement is reached, the judge will settle any dispute at a contested hearing.

In Part 2, we’ll look at how the courts handle dividing marital assets as well as how parental responsibilities are determined if children are involved.  We’ll also discuss what you can do to protect yourself mentally from the stress of divorce.

Click here to learn more about our Family Law Practice Group.

Image: Thinkstock/lofilolo
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.

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