Frequently Asked Questions
In general, the expectation pre-Covid was that most family law matters in St. Louis County and St. Louis City would be finalized within a year from the date of the filing, either by settlement or through a contested trial. However, the courts are still working through the backlog that occurred during the pandemic. In our experience, it is more accurate to expect that most matters are resolved within eighteen months of filing, although this can vary widely; the fewer contested issues, the faster cases are resolved. Certain cases may take longer to resolve – for example, contested custody matters, cases involving jurisdictional issues, or those involving the division of complex assets. Resolution of cases may also take longer when judges are reassigned due to court docketing changes or when one or both spouses change attorneys during the case.
The cost of family law cases varies widely for reasons other than your attorney’s hourly rate. (The ethical rules governing attorney conduct prevent family law attorneys from billing on contingency). Many factors affecting cost are outside your attorney’s control. For example, if you and your spouse agree to the division of your assets and debts early on, in general the cost will be far less than a trial in which a judge makes the decisions. In some instances, costs are driven by litigation tactics employed by your spouse and his/her attorney. The less reasonable and cooperative the other side is in negotiating a resolution, the more expensive the litigation will be.
If your spouse is abusive to you or your children, you may file an Ex Parte Order of Protection requesting that the Court order your spouse to leave the house. Your attorney will advise you whether it is a good idea to file for such an order based on the specific facts of your case. In cases where the facts do not support filing an Order of Protection, your attorney can file a motion requesting the Court to award one spouse exclusive possession of the house during the pendency of the case.
If you are the spouse considering leaving the house, you should know that the choice to leave the family home does not affect to whom the property is ultimately awarded. In fact, most judges prefer that spouses who are not getting along live separately in order to reduce stress and acrimony. Further, choosing to leave voluntarily may protect you against an allegation of abuse.
Missouri’s divorce laws permit the court to order one party to pay some or all of their spouse’s reasonable attorneys’ fees. Attorneys’ fees are generally awarded based on the financial resources of the parties, regardless of which spouse filed for divorce. For example, in a marriage where only one spouse works outside the home, it is more likely that the breadwinner may be ordered to pay a portion of a stay-at-home spouse’s fees than in a case where both spouses work and earn similar incomes.
Many marriages end after one spouse sacrificed their own career to support a spouse’s professional advancement. If one spouse cannot meet their reasonable needs from their employment, or from income-producing property awarded to them, the court will order the breadwinner to pay maintenance (alimony). The amount of maintenance that is awarded depends on a variety of factors, including the length of the marriage, the conduct of the parties during the marriage, and the breadwinner’s ability to support himself while also paying maintenance. Your attorney will help you evaluate whether the facts of your case make it likely that you will receive, or be ordered to pay, maintenance.
The filing of an action for a divorce, legal separation, or motion to modify requires the submission of a Statement of Property. A Statement of Property mandates the disclosure of all the assets and debts that you are aware of – even those that you owned prior to the marriage. The extensive array of discovery tools available to attorneys means that it is very likely that any attempt to conceal assets will fail. Further, the discovery of concealed assets will cause you to immediately lose credibility with the Court (and your attorney). Even in the rare cases where no investigation occurs into the existence or value of your assets, your former spouse may file an action requesting the Court to divide assets discovered after your divorce is final. Reputable attorneys will not assist you in making false statements to the Court.
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