What’s the first step in getting a divorce?
The divorce process begins with a “Petition”. The Petition is a document filed with the Court which sets forth identifying information regarding you, your spouse and your children. It sets forth generally what relief you are requesting the court grant to you. It does not set forth a specific parenting time schedule or specific amounts for child support or maintenance.
I’ve been served with a divorce petition. What do I do?
If the sheriff’s department has served you with a petition, the summons attached to it informs you that you have 30 days to file an answer. It is imperative that you file an Answer to the Petition within that time period. If you do not, your spouse can go to court without further notice to you, obtain a divorce and may ask the Court to enter orders that detrimentally affect your contact with your children or adversely affect you financially.
Should I voluntarily pick up the petition from my spouse’s attorney?
If you voluntarily pick up the paperwork, your 30 days begins running from the date the petition is filed because you have already been served. In all likelihood, your spouse’s attorney will require you to sign a waiver of service of summons. Be careful to review the document before signing it. Some waivers also provide that you agree to no further notice of the proceedings. Signing a waiver that contains that language, allows your spouse to go to court anytime after the expiration of 30 days, without any notice to you and make whatever requests for relief that he/she desires. Any oral statements by your spouse as to what will be requested may or may not be what he/she requests and gets at the default hearing.
Can I unilaterally terminate the parental rights of the father of my child?
Generally, there is no right to unilaterally terminate a father’s parental rights – even if he consents to do so. Unless there is a current husband who is willing to adopt the child, the Court will not leave a child fatherless.
At what age can my child decide with which parent to live.
Although there are many urban legends that allege ages at which a child can decide with which parent to live, the reality is, there is no statutory provision assigning an age for a child to make such a decision. After age 18, a written parenting plan is not required so conceivably that could be the youngest age the law recognizes for that type of decision. At trial, the Court is required to consider a child’s wishes as one of the eight factors upon which it bases it’s custody decision. However, the younger a child is, the less importance a court is likely place on the child’s wishes. Even a teenager’s wishes may be outweighed by the other factors.
Regardless of a child’s age, it is important that a parent not discuss with, or quiz the child about where he/she wants to live. To do so may hurt the child’s emotional well-being, inappropriately empower a child to manipulate both parents and/or detrimentally affect the quizzing parent’s position at trial.
My child asks me questions about the divorce and I don’t want to lie to my child. How do I discuss the issues of the case with my child.
The short answer is – DON’T!!!. In intact families, parents don’t discuss adult issues with their children and the divorce process is just that – an adult issue. A child should not be used as a sounding board, confidant or friend. The child should be reassured that both parents love him/her and that everything will be okay. That mantra should be repeated often. It is not up to the child(ren) to make either parent feel better by listening to them complain about the other parent. Remember when you criticize the other parent, you are criticizing your child, because that child is made up of both of you. Remember to love your child more than you hate the other parent.
My girlfriend and I have a child together and she is refusing to let me see my child. What rights do I have for parenting time with my child?
Unless and until a father has a Judgment of Paternity, he has no legal rights of custody to his child(ren). This is a practical consequence of having children out of wedlock. It is necessary to file a Petition For Declaration of Paternity in order to get custody rights through a parenting plan that will be entered by the Court. Missouri Child Support Enforcement may administratively order an amount for child support but that agency has no jurisdiction to order parenting time or decide custody. If the administrative order has been adopted by the Circuit Court then there is an order of Paternity, but with no parenting plan in place there is no enforceable right to see the child(ren).
My ex spouse will not let me see my child because I’m behind in child support. Why should I continue to pay support if I’m not getting to see my child.
The issues of parenting time and child support are mutually exclusive. A non-custodial parent is entitled to see his/her children if child support is never paid and that same parent is liable for child support if he/she never gets to see the child(ren). Neither parent should use child support as a weapon to control or manipulate the situation. An action for Contempt may be filed in either circumstance to enforce child support or parenting time. The Court in finding a parent in Contempt may, in certain circumstances, incarcerate a parent; order additional make-up parenting time and order the payment of attorneys fees.