Smuda & Ramirez, P.C.

When Legal Ability and Experience Count, A Firm You Can Trust


Smuda & Ramirez, P.C. represents persons in their family law concerns in the state of Missouri only.  These concerns usually involve divorce, child support, child custody, visitation, maintenance, and paternity. 


Domestic relations cases are often emotional and stressful episodes in peoples' lives.  We do our best to guide our clients through the process and achieve a result which is equitable and which will allow them to move on with their lives.

Brief overview of divorce issues in Missouri:
The following is an overview of some of the issues common to divorce cases in the state of Missouri.  It does not include a complete discussion of the law.  This information applies only to Missouri, not to any other state and may not apply to any one specific case, as every legal matter is different.

Jurisdiction:  To file for and obtain a divorce in Missouri, a person must be a resident of Missouri for at least 90 days immediately preceding the filing of the divorce petition.  Jurisdiction over the other party must be obtained in accordance with the rules of the supreme court and applicable local court rules.  The venue for the divorce action is in the county where either  of the parties resides.


No fault:  Missouri does not require grounds (fault) to obtain a divorce.  All that is necessary is to show that there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved and that the marriage is therefore irretrievably broken.  Where the fault of a party (such as infidelity, abuse, or substance abuse problems) does lead to the breakdown of a marriage, a court may consider such conduct if it directly affects the parties' finances. 

The petition:  A divorce is commenced when a petition is filed by a party.  The petition must contain certain statutory language and contain information about any children of the marriage.  The petition must also be "verified" by the client, which means he or she must sign it before a notary public swearing to the truth of all statements contained therein.


A court filing fee must be paid at the time of filing the petition.
Upon the filing of the petition, each child is immediately subject to the jurisdiction of the court.  Until permitted by the court, neither party may remove any child from the jurisdiction of the court or from any parent with whom any child has primarily resided for the 60 days immediately preceding the filing of the petition.  The mere fact that one parent has actual possession of a child at the time of filing does not create a preference in favor of that parent regarding custody.

Service of process: In order for the respondent in a divorce case to be brought within the jurisdiction of the circuit courts of Missouri, that person must be served with copies of the petition,, financial statements, a parenting plan (if children are involved), and a summons requiring them to file a responsive pleading within a certain time period.  The service cannot be made by one party serving the other.  The respondent may voluntarily consent to the jurisdiction of the court and waive service of process.  This is usually accomplished by the respondent signing a form (usually prepared by an attorney) that is filed with the court.

Temporary order:  After a petition has been filed and served on the other party, a party may obtain, under certain circumstances, temporary orders from the court.  The temporary orders typically will grant one party the temporary use of a vehicle and possession of the marital home during the pendency of the divorce proceeding.  Temporary orders may grant one party residential custody of the children and order the other party to pay temporary child support and/or temporary maintenance.  The temporary orders may also restrain the parties from disposing of assets or from threatening, abusing or harassing the other party or coming near them while the case is pending.

Discovery:  The parties will often engage in "discovery".  Discovery is a process in which the two parties exchange information concerning the issues involved in the divorce.  The parties may submit written questions to each other, request the production of documents, and take each others' deposition.  Some cases require intensive discovery in which other witnesses are deposed, appraisals of property are obtained, homes and safe deposit boxes are inventoried, and records are subpoenaed.  If a party refuses to provide information during discovery, he or she may be sanctioned by the court.

Property division: Generally, all property acquired during the marriage is marital property and subject to division by the court.  Separate property is property owned by a party prior to the marriage or obtained as a result of inheritance or gift from outside of the marriage.  Separate property usually will be set aside to the party who brought it into the marriage and will not be divided by the court.  However, appreciation on that separate property which occurred during the course of the marriage may be divided.  Courts will try to make an equitable division of the property and debt of the parties to a divorce action.  However, this does not necessarily mean assets will be divided equally. The fact that one party earned the majority of the assets or incurred the majority of the debt during the marriage does not necessarily affect property division.

Property settlement agreements:  If the parties can agree as to how to resolve the issues concerned in their divorce they can enter into a separation and property settlement agreement.  The agreement is a written document embodying the parties' understanding as to all issues.  The agreement is signed by both parties and reviewed by the court.  The court will approve it and incorporate the terms of the agreement into its decree of divorce  if it is fair, just and equitable.

Trial:  Any issues which the parties cannot agree on will be tried to and decided by the court.  Each party may call witness and introduce exhibits to support his or her position.  The court will decide the dispute and make certain orders which will be contained in the decree of divorce.

Decree of divorce:  The decree of divorce is the official court document which dissolves the marriage of the parties.  The decree will contain the judge's orders concerning property division, child custody and visitation, child support, maintenance, and other issues.  Once the decree is filed with the clerk of the court the divorce is final, although the court retains jurisdiction over issues concerning the children and child support and issues concerning spousal maintenance under certain circumstances.

Child custody:  The courts in Missouri must make decisions concerning children based on what is in the best interests of the children. "Joint legal and joint physical custody" is the preferred custodial arrangement where both parents are found to be fit and proper persons to care for the children, and certain other criteria are met.


"Joint legal custody" means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities to the children and each should consult with the other concerning major decision concerning the children, i.e. education, medical decision, religious training.  "Joint physical custody" does not necessarily mean that the children will spend an equal amount of time at each parent's home.  It means that the children will have frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with both parties.  The residence of one of the parents will be designated as the address of the children for mailing and educational purposes.

The award of joint physical custody does not eliminate the need to pay child support.
Child visitation:  The non-residential parent in any custodial situation may be entitled to visitation with the children.  Most courts in Missouri have guidelines which they follow concerning visitation.  Typically, in the joint physical custody situation, visitation will consist of every other weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening, one evening per week (not necessarily overnight), every other major holiday, and extended vacation visitation in the summer time.  Of course, visitation may be different for each family situation and will greatly depend on the age of the child, any special needs of the child, and the distance between the parties homes.  Again, the courts will usually look at what is in the best interest of the children when determining what visitation to order.

Child support: Child support is determined by a formula promulgated by the Missouri Supreme Court in accordance with the statute.  The gross monthly income of each party is used to determine child support. Other factors include the cost of daycare, the cost of health insurance, and the actual time the children spend with the non-residential parent.  There are other factors that can be considered where merited by the circumstances.  Those amounts will be plugged into the formula and child support calculated.  Child support is subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the court and may be raised or lowered when there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.


Maintenance:  Maintenance is the term used in Missouri for spousal support paid after the marriage by one party to the other.  This support is sometimes known as "alimony" outside of Missouri.  In determining whether one party should pay maintenance to the other, courts will usually look at the present and prospective earning capacities of the parties, the length of the marriage, the parties' needs, the ages of the parties, the parties' overall financial situation, and the marital property received by the party requesting maintenance, among other considerations.


NOTICE:  This website is for informational purposes only.  None of the information contained in the Smuda & Ramirez, P.C. website should be construed as legal advice.  Further, it does not create an attorney-client relationship between the viewer and Smuda & Ramirez, P.C., absent an express agreement between the firm and the viewer.  Every legal matter is different and the information in these pages may not be applicable to any one specific case.  The viewer should neither take, nor refrain from taking, any action on the basis of any information on this website without first seeking appropriate legal or other professional advice.  The receipt of an e-mail from our law firm, even in response to a specific question, does not create an attorney-client relationship and no e-mail exchange should be considered confidential.  All attorneys at Smuda & Ramirez, P.C. are licensed in the state of Missouri.  None of the information in this website pertains to any states other than Missouri and should not be construed as solicitation of business in those or any other states.  Smuda & Ramirez, P.C. specifically disclaims any warranties of services this website may seem to offer.