Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the difference between a legal separation and a dissolution?
A.
Legal separation and dissolution of marriage are identical in all respects except that when the Judgment is issued, the parties still are married. All of the same issues are decided – division of property, custody, visitation, child support and maintenance. This is a rarely used alternative to a dissolution of marriage and only is used if there is a real likelihood of reconciliation or if the parties want to stay married for religious reasons, insurance reasons or some other reason.

 

Just like a dissolution, there often is a written Separation Agreement, which includes provisions for spousal maintenance of husband or wife, the division of property, and custody, support and visitation of children.

 

If the parties choose to reconcile, a Judgment of Legal Separation can be set aside by the judge. A Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage cannot be set aside. After 90 days have passed from the date the Judgment of Legal Separation was signed by the judge, either party may file a motion with the court to convert the Judgment of Legal Separation into a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.


Q. The other day, I was at a state court and the clerk was rude to me. I asked for help to fill out a form so I could file for divorce, and the clerk would not lift a finger to help. Now I'm stuck.
A. It can be very frustrating when you want to do something at a courthouse and you don't have a lawyer representing you. Court clerks are frequently asked questions about what legal forms should be used by people who are representing themselves in court. Or they may face situations, such as the one you described, where they are asked for help filling out a legal from. The problem is that clerks are not allowed to answer such questions. If they were to help fill out divorce forms, they would lose their jobs and face prosecution for the unlicensed practice of law. In most instances, only a lawyer can help fill out forms. However, there are some forms that circuit clerks may be able to help you with, such as forms related to adult abuse, child protection, small claims, family access, and certain probate forms.

Q. Am I the Petitioner or the Respondent?
A. A person starts the case by filing a form ("pleading") called the "original petition," and is called the "petitioner." The person who is being sued is called the "respondent." Click here for a glossary of other legal terms.

Q. Can I handwrite the forms or must they be typed?
A. The Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure address requirements for the filing of pleadings. Also check the local rules in your circuit for additional requirements. Generally, legible typed pleadings are preferred. Some circuits also permit filing by electronic transmission (fax or e-mail). Consult the local court rules or the circuit clerk if you are interested in electronic transmission. If you want to type or clearly print the information onto the forms, you may use the plain text non-interactive version of these forms as approved by the Supreme Court.


Q. I cannot find the form I want. Where can I get other forms?
A. All family law forms approved by the Supreme Court of Missouri for use by litigants representing themselves appear on this website. New approved forms are added periodically. For other resources, click here.

Q. How many copies will I need?
A. The circuit clerk will file the original of your pleading. You must also provide the clerk with one copy for each person ("party") to be served in your case. The clerk will file-mark an extra copy for you to keep for your records at your request. If you mail the pleadings to the clerk, as a courtesy, attach a postage paid return envelope so that the file marked copy can be mailed back to you.

Q. I'm not sure of my spouse's address. How does my spouse get served?
A. The Rules of Civil Procedure require personal service if possible. The court will expect you to make reasonable efforts to determine the whereabouts of parties to be served. If that is not possible, it may be appropriate to request "alternate service" by registered or certified mail or by publication. The Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure govern when alternate service is appropriate.

Q. Who serves my spouse?
A. Personal service of the summons may be made by the sheriff in the county where the party being served resides. In some areas personal service by a private process server is also available. The circuit clerk will prepare the summons to be served by the sheriff or the private process server. Service may be requested by registered or certified mail in certain situations upon the filing of an affidavit. If you determine that it is appropriate to serve a party by publication, it is your responsibility to contact the publisher of a newspaper of general circulation in the county where your case is filed to arrange for publication.

Q. How do I find out the amount of filing fees?
A. The circuit clerk may assist you in determining the amount of the filing fee. Some circuits also post the filing fees on their circuit website. You also will have fees for serving summons on each of the other parties in your case. The circuit clerk usually will be able to tell you the amount of the fee charged by the sheriff for service. If you use a private process server you should ask the process server about the cost. If you are notifying a party by publication, check with the publisher regarding the cost.

Q. What if I cannot afford to pay the court filing fees?
A. You have a right to access the courts even if you cannot pay the court costs. You must inform the court of your income and expenses under oath and the judge will determine whether the fees will be waived. Click here for an application form.

Q. Can I save the cost of the sheriff serving my spouse, if we agree?
A. You can give your spouse a copy of the Petition and other documents and your spouse can voluntarily file and Answer. Also your spouse can sign a "waiver" of service.

Q. What if there is domestic violence in my relationship?
A. There are resources in Missouri that can help. You may contact the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence at (888) 666-1911, or click here to access their website for a listing of Missouri services.

Q. How do I find contact information for my local court?
A. Missouri's counties and the city of St. Louis are organized into 45 judicial circuits. There is a court in every county. The circuit court is typically in the county seat (or the city of St. Louis) and may be in additional locations in the county. Click here to access information about your local court.