Missouri Divorce Law & Spousal Abuse

by Elizabeth Rayne

Although Missouri law does not specifically list spousal abuse as grounds for divorce, providing evidence of domestic violence may help your divorce case. The state does not place fault on either spouse in dissolving a marriage. However, evidence of spousal abuse demonstrates that the marriage is irrevocably broken. Additionally, spousal abuse may lead to a more favorable divorce decree, particularly when it comes to child custody.

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Grounds for Divorce

Missouri is a no-fault state, meaning the courts will only grant a divorce on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken. If the divorce is contested, and the other spouse denies the marriage is broken, it is appropriate to present evidence of abuse to support your claim. In order to dissolve the marriage in a contested case, the court must typically find that your spouse is intolerable to live with, you cannot reasonably be expected to continue living with your spouse, or you and your spouse have lived separately for 12 months or more.

Petition for Divorce

Court proceedings for a divorce in Missouri begin with filing a petition for dissolution of marriage in the circuit court of the county where either you or your spouse reside. On the petition, you may include allegations of abuse, particularly if you believe your spouse may challenge the grounds for divorce. Additionally, you may indicate that you want the court to decide on property division, spousal maintenance, child custody and child support. If the children were also victims of domestic violence, you may include that information on the petition in the section on child custody.

Effect of Domestic Violence on Divorce

In determining child custody and support, as well as spousal maintenance and property division, the court may consider the history of domestic violence. To decide the child custody arrangement, the court is primarily concerned with what is in the best interest of the child, and will take the history of domestic violence and the safety of the child into consideration. While the child support order is mainly related to the finances of each parent, and not the conduct of either spouse during the marriage, the court will consider how much time the child spends with each parent in making a support determination. Similarly, the court will look at the finances of each spouse when determining spousal support and property division, but the conduct of the parties during the marriage will also be taken into consideration.

Providing Evidence

Missouri courts will only take spousal abuse into consideration in divorce orders if you can prove that it actually happened. You may provide testimony about the incidents of abuse and provide physical or documentary evidence. Evidence may include photos, medical records, police reports, or protective or restraining orders. In order to show the effect spousal abuse has had on your children, you may also present your children's school, counseling or medical records as evidence.