Area of Law:
Divorce may be defined as the legal ending, or dissolution, of a marriage. Married couples do not have a legal or a constitutional right to seek a divorce, but states like Missouri commonly grant divorces because forcing a couple to stay married would be against public policy.
"No-fault" and "fault" are the two types of grounds, or justifications, for divorce in the United States. In some states, no-fault is the only acceptable justification for a divorce, even if fault grounds exist within the marriage. Other states, such as Missouri, allow the individuals involved to select either a no-fault or a fault divorce. Lawyers.com gives a comprehensive overview of divorce and separation law in the state of Missouri.
The United States first adopted the concept of a no-fault divorce in the late 1960's, and nearly all of the states currently allow for some form of it. A no-fault divorce is one in which the parties do not legally fault, or blame, each other for the divorce. Some examples of the justifications for a no-fault divorce include “irreconcilable differences,” “irretrievable breakdown,” or “incompatibility.” One spouse cannot usually stop a no-fault divorce, simply because when one spouse wants a divorce and the other spouse does not, this constitutes irreconcilable differences, which justifies a no-fault divorce.
In Missouri, the justification for a no-fault divorce is an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Missouri law provides that either spouse can get a divorce simply by stating in writing that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If both spouses are in agreement that there should be a divorce, they can file a joint petition in which they agree in writing that the marriage can be terminated.
Many states require a "cooling-off" period of separation for a specific length of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can begin. During this time, the couple is required to live separate and apart with the intent that the separation will become permanent. The duration of the cooling-off period varies according to state law. In Missouri there is no waiting period, and the divorce is final when entered but is subject to appeal. The court's order of distribution of marital property, however, is not subject to modification.
Some states also allow fault grounds for divorce. Common fault grounds include cruelty, desertion, adultery, prison confinement, habitual intemperance (drunkenness or drug addiction), and impotency. In Missouri, if both spouses do not agree that a divorce is proper, then the spouse petitioning for divorce must prove that the marriage is irretrievably broken by satisfying the court of one or more facts, which include: adultery by the other spouse, behavior by the other spouse that makes it unreasonable to continue to live with them, abandonment for at least six months, voluntary separation for at least one year, or separation for at least two years. A summary of the Missouri divorce laws can be found at divorcesource.com.
Divorce laws in general differ widely across the United States. The American Bar Association offers a variety of information regarding divorce requirements state by state on their Section of Family Law website. A chart comparing all 50 states, including Missouri, can be found at abanet.org.
*An example of a Missouri Divorce Settlement Agreement can be seen on Free Legal Aid.