The legal process for divorce (what Missouri calls “dissolution of marriage”) begins with the filing of a petition for dissolution of marriage. We are all familiar with the term “petition,” but most of the time we see this word, it is used in connection with a group of people asking a governmental body, a school, or an organization to do something. We might sign a petition to try and place a proposal on the ballot or to criticize a municipality for not having enough stop signs or to demand a change in a school policy.
The petitions we file in court are different from those other kinds of petitions. Courts use old language that has survived over centuries, and that sometimes confuses our clients. Here are a few guidelines about the language lawyers use in a petition for dissolution and what it means:
- A “petition” is a document filed in a court that asks the court to take some kind of action based upon “allegations” made in the petition.
- “Allegations” are statements the “petitioner” (the person who files the petition) claims are true.
- Dissolution petitions must include certain allegations that are not controversial, but that establish the court’s authority to dissolve the marriage. These include:
- The residences of the spouses. Missouri law requires that at least one spouse have resided in the state for at least 90 days immediately prior to filing the petition.
- The residences of the children. Generally speaking, the court can only make orders regarding the children if they live in Missouri and have lived here for at least six months. (There are a few exceptions to this rule.)
- The date of the marriage.
- The date the spouses separated, if they have separated. Physical separation is not required, but the law still requires this information.
- Whether the wife is pregnant.
- The petition must also include the allegation that the marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
- Petitions will generally include other allegations that may not be agreed to by the other spouse. These could include allegations about:
- The best arrangements for care of the children.
- Who should be paying child support to whom.
- Whether one spouse should be paying maintenance (alimony) to the other.
- Whether one spouse should be paying the other spouse’s attorney’s fees.
- The petition closes with the “prayer.” In a petition, the prayer is the part that asks the judge to dissolve the marriage, make orders regarding the children, divide the property and debt, etc.
It’s important to remember that the petition is only the opening document, and that nothing asked for in the petition will happen unless a judge orders it after a trial or the spouses agree to it and settle the case.
Petitions can provoke strong emotional responses. Reviewing the petition with your lawyer will help you better understand its meaning. The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. can guide you through the challenging dissolution of marriage process. Contact us today.