Getting a divorce in Missouri involves various steps. If you are the one filing, one of the first actions you must take is serving your spouse with divorce papers. Failing to do so properly or at all could impact your case.
Filing a Petition with the Court
Before you send the divorce papers your spouse's way, you must file a petition with the court. Essentially, the petition provides the details of your case, such as who you are filing against (your spouse) and what relief you are seeking (dissolution of marriage and specific divorce-related issues like property division).
After you submit to the court the proper forms, the court clerk will attach a summons to the petition. Your spouse must receive both a copy of the petition and the summons.
How Divorce Papers Are Served
There are several ways your spouse may be served with the dissolution of marriage petition and the summons.
A few of the most common include:
- Personal service: This method involves a sheriff personally taking the divorce papers to your spouse. Because your spouse must receive these documents and the court must verify that service of process happened, you must provide the court clerk with accurate contact information for your spouse.
- Special process server: If the sheriff has trouble locating your spouse or your spouse avoids being served, the court may allow a special process server to provide official notice to your spouse.
- Official publication: This involves posting a notice in your local newspaper. You can only use this method if you cannot locate your spouse and have exhausted every practical means to find them. Before you can pursue service through publication, you must get permission from the court, and you can publish the notice only in specific papers.
When the Divorce Petition Is Filed but Not Served
Note that you cannot proceed with your dissolution of marriage until your spouse has received official notice – or you have posted an official notice in a newspaper. Thus, even though you might have filed your petition with the court, without verification that your spouse received the necessary paperwork, your divorce cannot be finalized.
If you do not serve your spouse with a copy of the petition or do not go through the proper channels, your case may be delayed or dismissed.
Spouse Does Not Respond
After your spouse receives the divorce papers, they have 30 days to respond. That means they must file what is referred to as an answer, which states agree with or contest the relief sought.
If your spouse does not file an answer within the allotted period, they are in default, meaning they did not fulfill their legal obligation to respond. In this situation, the court may return a default judgment. In other words, it will move forward with the proceedings without hearing your spouse's side of the story. Generally, this means that it will grant whatever relief sought in the petition (if it is reasonable).
Retain Legal Representation
Understanding your legal obligations during a divorce is essential for facilitating an efficient process. Additional stress and frustrations can arise when delays that could have been prevented occur.