The decision to end a marriage is rarely reached without significant contemplation and consideration. Once the decision has been made, however, the next step is to legally sever the ties of marriage through the process of divorce. Whether your divorce is destined to be adversarial from the start or appears to be amicable, the divorce process is stressful for everyone involved. Moreover, what appears to be an amicable divorce can turn contentious overnight. Either way, the decisions made during your divorce will impact you and your family for years to come and should not be made without the advice and guidance of an experienced Kansas or Missouri family law attorney.
Property Settlement Agreements
A number of issues must be settled during the course of a divorce, including how the debts and assets of the marriage are to be divided. Ideally, the parties are able to reach a mutually agreeable Property Settlement Agreement that provides for the distribution of all marital assets without the need for protracted litigation. Sometimes, however, that is not possible and the court is required to decide how the assets of the marriage are to be divided. Both Kansas and Missouri are “equitable distribution” states. Contrary to what many people think, this does not necessarily mean properly is divided equally in a divorce. Instead, it means property is divided fairly and justly. Factors the court may consider when dividing marital assets include, but are not limited to:
- Duration of the marriage
- Economic circumstances of each party
- Earning capacity of each party
- Contribution of each party to the acquisition of the assets
- Custody and support of minor children post-divorce
All too often, the emotional stress and pressure brought on by the divorce process causes one spouse to agree to a Property Settlement Agreement that is not in his or her best interest without fully realizing the consequences of doing so. To make that this does not happen to you, be sure you have an experienced family law attorney review a proposed Property Settlement Agreement to ensure that the agreement is fair and that your rights are being protected.
The financial impact of a divorce or legal separation is typically felt by everyone involved. A spouse who gave up a career to stay home and raise children, or support an ambitious spouse, can find the financial impact of divorce particularly devastating. Fortunately, the law in both Kansas and Missouri recognizes the need to award maintenance, also referred to as “alimony” or “spousal support,” under certain circumstances. Maintenance is not awarded in every divorce. Instead, it is considered on a case by case basis. When maintenance is awarded, it is awarded in an amount, and for a duration, that the court deems to be just and fair after considering all relevant factors, including things such as:
- Duration of the marriage (the longer the marriage, the longer the maintenance award, as a general rule).
- The requesting party’s ability to support himself/herself given the financial resources available, including any assets awarded in the divorce.
- Age and physical/mental condition of the party requesting maintenance
- The education and experience of the requesting party
- The financial resources of the party being asked to pay maintenance
A maintenance award can have a significant financial impact on both the spouse paying and the spouse receiving the support. If you believe maintenance will be an issue in your divorce, be sure you have an experienced family law attorney on your side to ensure the support that is awarded is fair to both parties.
Both Kansas and Missouri offer an alternative to divorce known as a legal separation (Kansas) or separate maintenance (Missouri). Contrary to what many people believe, you are not legally separated simply by living apart for a designated or prolonged period of time. A legal separation requires a formal filing in the appropriate court. The process and procedures for a legal separation, as well as the outcome, are very similar to a divorce with one significant difference. After a legal separation is granted, the parties are still legally married and, therefore, cannot remarry. As in a divorce, however, the debts and assets of the marriage can be divided when you petition for a legal separation. Furthermore, if there are minor children of the marriage, custody, visitation, and support can also be ordered in a legal separation as can spousal support if appropriate. In essence, anything that can be decided in a divorce can be decided in an action for a legal separation. Some common reasons why couples choose to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce include:
- Religious beliefs that prohibit divorce
- Hope of reconciliation at some later point in time
- Desire to continue to provide benefits to a spouse that would end with a divorce
- Personal opposition to the concept of divorce
If the parties to a legal separation later decide to reconcile, all that is required to terminate the legal separation is for the court to dismiss the action. This is one of the reasons couples who are not 100 percent certain that the wish to end their marriage choose to pursue a legal separation instead of a divorce.
If you are considering a legal separation in either Kansas or Missouri, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced family law attorney to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process.