Scales of Justice and Inside a Courthouse


Justin M. Crozier June 30, 2017

Every County in Missouri has a slightly different method for filing for divorce, though there are some similarities among all counties.

Jackson County is a little different than every else, because the majority of Kansas City is located in Jackson County.  That means the courts are pretty overloaded.  In fact, it is one of the only (maybe the only?) county in Missouri that has two separate courthouses.

In any divorce, the first thing you want to do is to find a good attorney.  Now, you can file for divorce on your own (pro se, is what we call it), but it isn’t recommended.  I know what you’re saying: “Oh Justin, of course YOU want us to get an attorney!  That is how you make money, I’m not a fool!!”  I can’t say you are entirely wrong, it is in my best interest for people to hire me.  On the other hand, all the paper work, the legal hoops, and the specific procedures can make it very challenging, especially if you and your (soon to be) ex aren’t on the best of terms.

I’ll say this:  if you have a pretty amicable relationship, no kids, and no real property, then it probably makes sense to just represent yourself.  Otherwise, you almost certainly want an attorney.

After you have hired an attorney, the first thing you will do is to file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.  This is basically the notice to the court that you want to get a divorce.  You also have to file a few forms, and some information sheets so the court can verify that you are who you say you are, and that they have the ability (jurisdiction) to rule on the divorce. 

Once you have submitted the Petition (or your attorney has submitted the Petition), then the court has to “accept” the Petition.  That doesn’t mean you are divorced yet, it just means the court has looked at it and they think that everything is okay with the information.  They have not identified any major errors, and they are prepared to move forward.

Once the Petition has been accepted, you need to give your partner their official notice that you want to divorce them.  And giving them a call or a stern face-to-face conversation isn’t going to do it.  You have to “serve” them.  That way the Court knows you that actually did what you say you did.  You can either use a private process server or you can use the sheriff.  Those are essentially the only ways that you can get someone served (well, they could sign something that waives service, but it’s not THAT common).  It costs a little bit to get someone served, but it isn’t too bad.

Alright, now they have been served, and your Petition has been accepted - now what?  Well, the other person gets to file their Answer.  Actually, they have to file their Answer.  An Answer is necessary for the person that was served, or they will automatically lose.  They have 30 days to respond with their Answer or… well, the guy (or gal) who filed the Petition just wins.  This is called a “Default Judgment.”  Probably some information worth discussing later, but at this point we will assume that the Answer is filed.

The Court will now ask if you expect to argue a lot or not.  Are you going to be “uncontested” or will you be “contested?”  Contested means they are expecting you to go to trial.  I’ll tell you that most people don’t, and shouldn’t, go to trial.  It is usually a lot more expensive, it takes much longer, and you are unlikely to get a better result than you would through the uncontested process.  The real winner in the contested divorce is… well, it’s me.  I get paid more money because it takes you longer to make a decision on how to resolve this thing.  If we go to trial it is going to get expensive FAST.  Contested cases that go to trial are going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars.  So, be careful.  On the contested track, you will probably be involved in depositions, additional discovery, case management conferences, and all kinds of hours of miscellaneous legal work.  Most attorneys charge for this stuff on an hourly basis.  The average lawyer, in Missouri, charges about $225/hour.  So… yeah, be prepared to spend some money if you want to go to trial.

Uncontested cases, however, are typically much faster and much cheaper.  You can sometimes resolve these by coming to an agreement with your ex and then having everyone sign it.  In fact, if you do that in Kansas City, Missouri, then you don’t even have to go in front of the Judge to finish the case.  You just sign a couple of notarized documents and smile, knowing that you don’t have to deal with someone you don’t want to deal with anymore!

The last thing you get is a Judgment.  This contains a Parenting Plan (what you need to do for your kids), a Property Agreement (who gets what stuff), and a final signature from a Judge indicating that you are all finished up.

It is a more complicated process than that, but at least this simplified version gives you the basics of what to expect from a divorce in Jackson County, Missouri.

Thanks for reading!

Good luck out there.