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What type of information will I need to provide to the court during my dissolution?

Posted on September 26, 2014 at 4:38 PM Comments comments (619)
When you marry, that act has many legal repercussions involving how your finances are treated and your children are treated in the eyes of the law. Therefore, it makes sense that when you are dismantling this legal union that you will be asked to provide a great deal of information about both finances and your children if you have them.

You will be asked to provide information about your income. Information that you will need will be broken down on paystubs and W-2s that will be helpful in providing the court with this information. You might also need to provide bank statements or credit card statements. Healthcare information for vision, dental and general healthcare may need to be provided. You will need information on retirement accounts. Assets that you have will need documentation. For most people this at least includes a house and a car or two, and the loans and mortgages underlying those. Even if there is no loan on a car or a house, values will need to be provided. Depending on what financial information you need, you might want advice on specific forms or information that would be helpful in proving the value of assets. You might also want advice about income. Just because you make a certain amount of money does not necessarily mean that the opposing party cannot impute income to you above and beyond your current wages for the purposes of maintenance and child support.

If you have children, you will be asked for information on how you will provide for their care. Some of this is intertwined with the above financial information, such as income being tied to child support. You might be asked about day care providers and costs, even travel out of town for work. You will also be asked to create a picture of how you imagine sharing time with your children with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. You may be asked about their doctors, dentists, therapists and counselors.

Bottom line: You will be asked for a great deal of information pertaining to your finances and your children. Organizing these and having access to this information will help you start the process or respond if your spouse initiates the dissolution. This list is just the tip of the iceberg in a contested case.

My spouse and I have decided to get a divorce. How do I get started?

Posted on September 25, 2014 at 4:51 PM Comments comments (694)
You will need to make what is called an initial filing. This begins the divorce process, which in Missouri is legally referred to as a "dissolution". An initial filing will include multiple documents. You will need to provide court approved forms for some of these. Some of the documents will ask for simple data like birthdate and date of marriage. Others are more complex and will require you to "plead" certain information based upon legal statute (a type of law). Also, these will need to be served upon the respondent, which in this case would be your spouse or your spouse's attorney. This cannot be accomplished via regular mail for a dissolution proceeding.
Like most litigants, even after you look into this yourself, you will probably have questions. You do not want to "mess this up" or make a mistake that could have negative legal repercussions. This is perfectly normal, and perfectly justified. The simplest course is to retain an attorney who can answer all of your questions, help you to file for dissolution, and represent you at court hearings along the way. This would be ideal. This proceeding will touch every aspect of your life, the largest repercussions usually being financially related and/or related to parenting. The court will decide and enforce some very private aspects of your life.

However, I realize as an attorney that not everyone can afford a full retainer, and while fully retaining an attorney will be the ideal situation, there is another alternative if you simply cannot afford an attorney: This is called Limited Scope Representation. At the very least, on the simple side of the Limited Scope spectrum, you can have an initial consult and ask some questions that you have after you have done your research and then have an attorney look over your filings to make sure there are no red flags or additional documents that you need. This is a popular option when marital assets are below six figures. Anything above six figures and you will likely find in the long run (many cases take over a year to resolve) that having an attorney was worth the cost but you can ask about what suits you best at an initial consultation as well.

Can a Parent Be Stopped From Moving By Their Ex-spouse to Relocate For a New Job or Move In With a New Spouse?

Posted on July 23, 2014 at 1:04 PM Comments comments (802)
As discussed in previous blog entries, Missouri has a law for relocation after a divorce when you have children that are still living under the parenting plan that was created during the initial proceeding. For a smooth transition to a new parenting plan, it is imperative that a parent planning to move understand the requirements under the statute. Not only can insufficient notice cause you to lose some of the custody rights that you previously enjoyed, but it can also cause your move to become practically speaking very difficult.
Many times when parents are planning a move, it is centered around a big life event. For instance, many parents remarry and move in with their new spouse. Sometimes parents move for better career opportunities, usually with a specific new job waiting for them with a set start date. A move is no small event for most people. It can require timing of shipments of your personal belongings, purchasing airplane tickets, selling your previous residence, storing personal belongings, enrollment of a child in school along with a myriad of other factors.
As soon as you know that you want to move, you should consult an attorney. An attorney will be able to attack custody and support issues head-on and make the transition process as smooth as possible. If you plan your move with your child before consulting an attorney, you risk mistiming your moving and multiplying your moving expenses in order to entertain a custody battle. An attorney can help you with strategies to comply with the law as well as aid you in trying to meet your deadline, whether that be moving to a new city for a job start date or simply living with your new spouse after your nuptials.

An attorney will also know a few things that you might be able to use to your advantage should the issue arise again. For instance, some people know that their career might require them to move quickly again. An attorney will  know drafting strategies in your new parenting plan that can help you expedite your next move.

Moving as a Divorced Parent

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 1:19 PM Comments comments (148)
This past month, Missouri courts published opinions on two cases both dealing with the relocation law in Missouri child custody and support modification cases. Missouri has multiple rules regarding the requirements of a relocation notice from one parent to another when one parent intends to move after a dissolution. Because the parents involved in the above mentioned cases did not understand the language of this law, they put themselves in less optimal positions in regards to custody of their children and their finances than they otherwise could have been in had they understood this law and how it applied to their situations. The language of this statute can today be found on many parenting plans, especially in St. Louis County because the form required there for the past few years includes this language.
Regardless however of whether this is explicitly stated in your specific parenting plan, this does bind you as a parent when you plan to relocate. That means that yes, there are implicit requirements that you must comply with that you may not remember your attorney advising you of in your initial post-dissolution exit interview or that may never have known about.
The fact that most parenting plans now include this language is meant to help parents recognize their obligations and having this in the parenting plan form is a great step toward allowing parents to be able to manage their own children's lives without the necessity for even a single court date. The language in the law itself is meant to allow parent-litigants to change a custody arrangement with minimal court participation, if parents can agree on a new parenting plan to accommodate the move of the one parent.

If you feel confused about the requirements even after reading the language in your parenting plan or if you do not know what the requirements are, you would not be the first parent. Even though the relocation statute does afford parents the opportunity to change the schedule with minimal court intervention, it is a good idea at the very least to consult an attorney regarding the notice requirement for relocation and the filing requirement if a new parenting plan is necessary. That consultation may just save you from going back to court and reliving the messy custody issues in your initial paternity or dissolution proceeding. Even if that is not an option, it might save you from losing some of your custody rights due to an improper notice.

What do I do if I have a divorce judgment involving custody and support from another state that I want to enforce in Missouri?

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 2:32 PM Comments comments (353)
A divorce judgment involving custody and support will be enforced across state lines. There is reciprocity between all 50 states. However, there is a process to make this happen. An attorney can aide you in registering your judgment in Missouri. An copy will need to be acquired. There are however requirements that must be met and you can discuss those with an attorney. You must have adequate contact with the state of Missouri. 

Additionally, some very proactive clients ask if you can do this as a sort of housekeeping matter prior to any real issues arising. You can. However, most clients want to file an action immediately after registering the judgment, which is called a "foreign judgment". This might lead you to wonder if you need an attorney in the state of the divorce for the registration of the judgment and a separate one in  Missouri for the custody or support matter. You do not. Despite the fact that the judgment is from another state, Missouri law is being practiced in order to bring it under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Courts. 

Bottom Line: Find an attorney in Missouri and this is usually a short and relatively inexpensive process.

How long does it take to finalize a step parent adoption?

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 2:27 PM Comments comments (786)
There are many steps in an adoption. The first is meeting with an attorney. It is strongly suggested that you seek the the assistance of an attorney due to the complexity of this specific type of law. After the initial meeting with the attorney, you will need to gather information for the attorney. It can be helpful to take notes during this meeting. After you have turned over the important information to the attorney, the attorney can then begin to draft the initial filing documents that you need to sign.
A time-consuming part of this process is getting the other biological parent's rights extinguished. Sometimes the client knows where the other biological parent is and sometimes the client does not. This will affect the timeline and the legal channels through which this is accomplished.
When all the correct documents have been filed, a court hearing can be scheduled to finalize the adoption. This is where the timeline varies to a great degree. Some counties require extra steps like a home visit from the guardian ad litem whereas other counties routinely waive such requirements. Some counties also have a much higher volume than others.
Additionally, there is a requirement that the step parent have been married to the biological parent of the child for at least six months. If this is not met, this can delay the process until the statutory time period requirement has been met.

BOTTOM LINE: It can take anywhere between two months for a very fast adoption and ten months typically for an adoption that is in a higher volume county.

What is the Timeline for a Divorce?

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 2:23 PM Comments comments (465)
The length of the process of a divorce can vary quite a bit. The single most indicative factor for timeline purposes is the amount of conflict or agreement you and your soon to be ex-spouse have. If you can agree on most things, the divorce may only take a few months. A realistic expectation for a relatively disagreement-free divorce would be about six months for most people.
                This estimation starts from the time of your initial consultation to the time that your divorce is final. Your attorney will need to gather information from you. This can take a long time and it can be hard to find the time to get the information or fill out forms your attorney gave you. You will likely have questions about the forms that you will want to consult your attorney about. When you give the attorney the forms, he or she may have further questions or comments for you. Your attorney will get your feedback and draw up the documents, ask for your final review, and make a time for a signing the documents. These will be filed and served to the other party. There is a period of about a month after the service. Service itself can take time.
                After the appropriate amount of time, your attorney can then speak with and negotiate with your soon to be ex-spouse or his or her attorney if he or she has retained one. Your initial filing can be turned into separate Settlement Documents as an offer for the soon to be ex-spouse. Many times, even in the best situations, details will need to be changed to meet the requirements of the soon to be ex-spouse. This takes time for redrafting and reoffering and consulting with you, the client. Only when both sides have agreed to and signed all of the Settlement Documents will an attorney schedule an uncontested hearing. It is not unusual for the scheduling of the hearing to be months after the signing and depends heavily on the assigned judge's case load. After the hearing, the judgment is not "official" until 30 days have passed and then a certified document will be sent to your attorney.
                Every single document, no matter how small the change, will need to be reviewed by you. Every final draft of a document will require your signature. Many final drafts of a document will require a notary to see you sign the papers, so this almost always requires a visit to the office, and during business hours when most people work. As you can hopefully see now, the scheduling and back and forth can take up a great deal of time.
                A timeline such as this requires that you as the client complete tasks like a list of assets and your parenting plans to your attorney promptly. It may be more complicated than you realize at this initial moment, when you are just beginning to consider a divorce. Once you become aware of the details, you will have a better idea of your timeline.  

                Six months is not the most common timeline. Somewhere between a year or two is far more common because of issues in ideology over children and money most often. There is a great deal at stake and many cases will have multiple different court dates set months apart for different stages of the process between filing and a trial.

What are the Right Estate Planning Documents for Me?

Posted on February 19, 2014 at 2:14 PM Comments comments (362)
Estate planning involves planning for incapacity and death: The most common Estate Planning documents seem to be (1) the will (2) the durable power of attorney and (3) the health care directive. There are other less common documents or "instruments", but the vast majority of people should consider the above.


Most people need a will. It is a good idea for just about everyone to have a will or at least to look into the idea and have a discussion with an attorney to explore your present situation. What will happen when state law makes decisions about your estate rather than you making those decisions in a will?  Those laws determine the person that will take care of the distribution of their assets in their estate. Do you know who that person or entity would be right now without a will? If you do not, it is a good idea to find out. State law has a sort of "preset" rule for all different types of situations. Do you have any assets that you would like to specifically give to another person? You can make specific bequests in a will to make sure that person gets a keepsake or family heirloom. Lastly, do you have children? Who should be their guardian if something happens to you and your spouse? This is something you can take care of in a will. Some situations are more urgent than others and of course the need for a will is simply greater in some cases. You should at least know where you fall on this scale by having an initial consultation. It is a planning document for your family. Think of it as insurance: it is not fun to think about and you hope you never need to use it, but it is simply something a smart person has to prepare for the worst.


Health care decisions: If you have any specific convictions about your healthcare decisions, you need to talk to an attorney to have your decisions put in writing so that your wishes are not overridden by someone else. Missouri is an absolute hotbed for healthcare decision lawsuits, many of which could have been avoided with a clearer estate plan. What do you want to happen if you are on life support? You can make very specific decisions about what types of life sustaining procedures you would like or not like, such as blood transfusions. Is there a point at which you want procedures withdrawn? These issues can be addressed in a health care directive or "living will".  Additionally, to cover all the potential decisions, you may appoint someone to make all other medical decisions when you cannot. This can be done in a separate durable power of attorney or a power of attorney that covers both finances and healthcare. If you have one person you can entrust both financial and health decisions to, it is recommended not to split the functions of healthcare decision maker and financial decision maker. At times, like when paying for a medical procedure, the two need to work in coordination and the simplest way is for a single person to have both functions.

Financial:  A durable power of attorney will appoint someone to take care of your financial decisions in the event that you are not able to make these decisions. As I mentioned above, this person can be the same or different from the person you appoint to make your healthcare decisions. You can also name an alternate in the event that your first choice is unavailable.

BOTTOM LINE: Even if you think that you do not need Estate Planning documents, scheduling a consultation with an attorney is an intelligent financial move to find out where you fall on the scale of needing Estate planning documents to meet your health, financial, and even emotional wishes (e.g. passing along an heirloom).

Step-Parent Adoption: Can I Adopt my Step-Child?

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 6:13 PM Comments comments (740)
Yes, in some situations. A child can only have two legal parents. This means that the parent that is not your spouse must give up his or her parental rights to be guardian of his or her child. This can happen in a few different ways but generally this means that (1) the parent signs a piece of paper consenting to the adoption and terminating their own rights or (2) the child is abandoned. Abandonment is a legal term and to prove it, generally one must search for the father through legal channels. Abandonment can also be financial abandonment, by not supporting the child financially.
Many times a father or mother will give up their parental rights and sign a waiver because it allows that person to terminate child support as well. Other times, the parent will give up rights simply because they have never been involved in the child's life. In regards to giving up child support, that means that the adoptive parent has taken on the legal responsibility of financially supporting the child, and, as part of the proceedings, the adoptive parent must attest to his or her ability to financially support the child.
There is also a requirement that the adoptive parent be married to the child's parent  (your spouse) and have lived with the child for six months preceding the actual adoption. This requirement has to do with showing the stability of the relationship. As we all know, divorce happens in a great number of marriages. Becoming an adoptive parent is not something to take on lightly. In the event of a divorce, you have parental rights equal to the natural mother or father of the child. This means that you also have custody rights in the event of a divorce.
One more requirement is a background check. It is entirely possible that a past crime, especially any child abuse or neglect, could bring a proceeding to a halt and bar you from becoming an adoptive parent.
In some jurisdictions, a home study is required and a Guardian Ad Litem will talk with both your spouse and you, the prospective adoptive parent. A Guardian Ad Litem is an attorney looking out for the best interest of the child. This person will have to make a recommendation for or against the adoption. Generally, in the home study, this attorney is looking for safety and cleanliness of the home the child is to be raised in. In all jurisdictions, the Guardian Ad Litem will conduct an interview of both of the parents as well as the child (although if the child is very very young the child may not be interviewed-usually within the discretion of the GAL, but somewhere between the ages of 0-4).

Bottom Line: Most conscientious people will make the grade and get the approval of the court and the Guardian Ad Litem. The place where some step-parent adoptions get unhitched is in the early stages, when the other parent (non-spouse) does not want to give up parental rights.  

What is Limited Scope Representation and who can benefit from Limited Scope Representation?

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 6:12 PM Comments comments (954)
Limited Scope Representation is a way to make legal representation more affordable for people who may not be able to afford full legal representation, but might be helped by a partial representation nonetheless. While there are definite advantages to hiring an attorney to handle the entire case, sometimes litigants might choose to try to self-represent because of financial concerns. Considering the complexities of the law, there are likely spots where the self-represented litigant could use some help understanding terminology, repercussions and strategy. Limited Scope Representation is collaboration between attorney and self-represented litigants that makes an attorney an affordable option.
Family law is much better suited for Limited Scope Representation than many other fields of law because it is an area more suited to the division of tasks between the attorney and the self-represented litigant. One of the more popular ways of handling the division of tasks is having an attorney conduct document review. The St. Louis County Courthouse provides a website with automated PDF forms for litigants to fill out. There are some instructions on the site as well.
The best candidates for LSR are intelligent, well-organized, detail oriented, practical people. They are teachable. However, you must realize when you need help. . Also, it is of paramount importance that the person is also not overwrought with the emotional situation at hand and can take on parts of the problem with a business-like manner instead. This last piece, understandably, can be a tall order in an emotional situation like a divorce.
I will not put any limitations on the service necessarily by income, but lower income people are generally the best candidates. Fewer assets generally translate to a less complicated case. Additionally, the more agreement on child care provisions, the better. An ideal candidate may not even have children. The lower conflict the case is, the more appropriate it is for limited scope representation.
An ideal candidate might be a young professional who has not been married very long and who is just starting their career for instance.

Bottom Line: This is not an ideal situation but it can smooth out what can be an otherwise very rough process without an attorney.