I'M GETTING DIVORCED; NOW WHAT?
So, you’ve been served by your soon-to-be ex and they want a divorce. Maybe you saw this coming, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you even want to try and make the marriage still work. You know that it has been hard, but you think it can still be fixed. On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what you have been hoping for. Finally, the misery can end!
Regardless of how you got here, here you are. At this point, I usually get a few questions about what can be done or what your rights are. So, let’s tackle some of those questions!
Q: I don’t want a divorce, how can I stop this?
A: Well, you might not be able to. In Missouri, if you don’t respond to the Petition for Dissolution, the Judge will just grant the divorce and you can’t really end it. While both of you had to agree to be married, it only takes one person to get a divorce.
Q: I don’t want to lose my kids; what can I do?
A: This is an excellent question. Missouri, as a basic rule, wants everyone to have joint custody. Joint custody doesn’t necessarily mean equal time, but it does mean that you won’t be out of your kids’ lives entirely. However, if you have a history of abuse, addiction, or negligence then you may not get joint custody (or they may not if they have a history of abuse, addiction, or negligence). While the divorce is pending, there usually isn’t a custody order, which means you both have equal rights to the children. The best result, especially for the kids, is if you can both agree on what to do. However, sometimes you have to fight to get the results you want.
Q: Now that I have this summons, what do I do?
A: The next thing that needs to be done is to file an “Answer.” This is an official response to their “Petition.” This isn’t supposed to be you telling them they are wrong, or that they lied to you, or that they smell funny. This is when you either admit what they are saying is true or deny it. If you want to tell your side of the story, then you can file a “Counter-Petition.” The Counter-Petition is you saying what you want and how you want the case to be resolved. Most people will want an attorney to help them out at this point, because this process can be time consuming.
Q: If I do the filings up front, will it save me money on an Attorney?
A: In reality, probably not. I know it doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem reasonable. So, I’ll try to explain: When someone else does the filings I usually have to re-file them and correct them. So, if you write out the answer, I typically need to correct it so that we don’t leave out a defense, allegation, or accidentally admit something that never should have been admitted. The same goes for the Petition/Counter-Petition. While the documents seem relatively simple, there are a lot of problems that can arise from saying the slightly wrong thing. In fact, it sometimes takes me more time to correct and re-file a document than it does to just start it from scratch. I get wanting to save money on this, but trying to write up the documents yourself is typically a bad idea.
Q: Okay, then how can I save money on this?
A: That really depends on a lot of factors. The best way to save money is to talk it out with your soon-to-be ex-spouse and come to an agreement together. That will save you way more money than trying to write the documents yourself. For some people, that isn’t possible. Your ex isn’t going to be reasonable no matter what you do, unfortunately that means the case is likely going to get more expensive. At that point, you have to decide what the value is. Is it worth paying me to get the result you want? I’ve seen people spend $1,400 arguing over a cooler; it was a nice cooler… but it wasn’t that nice. This is an emotional process, but listen to your attorney and try to keep emotion out of it.
So, there's a lot that goes into a divorce; even in the most amicable of situations there can be a lot of emotional distress. However, it's not something unmanagable, especially with a good lawyer. Remember to keep your cool and try not to make a big fuss over little things. Pick your battles and keep your nose clean; sometimes it's hard to take the high road, but it's always worth it.
If you have any other questions about your divorce, or if you want clarification on some of these answers, don't hesitate to reach out.
Until then, thanks for reading!
Good luck out there.