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Missouri Legal Separation Laws

Marriage can be a gift, but it also comes with many challenges. Sometimes, these challenges are so significant that a couple needs a break. They don’t necessarily want to get a divorce but realize that a legal separation may be for the best.

Some people separate for financial reasons. Others experience an extramarital affair and want to see if time can heal the wounds caused by the indiscretion. Regardless of the reason, it's important to understand the separation laws in Missouri.

Here, we’ll briefly discuss Missouri’s separation laws. We will also explain how things like alimony and property division work in a legal separation.

Missouri’s Separate Maintenance Action

Most states have laws that govern a legal separation. Missouri courts refer to a legal separation as a “separate maintenance action.” It works the same way a separation does but accounts for the same issues you address in a divorce.

In a separate maintenance action, a Missouri court enters an order that legally separates the parties while retaining their legal marriage.

The court order addresses the same issues as an order of divorce (dissolution). A Missouri separation order provides for the following:

Missouri laws are flexible when it comes to legal separation. For example, Missouri's courts cannot set aside a divorce order, but they can set aside a separation order. If a couple decides to divorce, the courts can convert their separation order into a divorce order. The couple must typically wait at least 90 days after a judge issues a separation order before the court will enter a divorce decree.

While the Missouri family courts don’t require that you file for legal separation before getting a divorce, it can be helpful. It can make the divorce process much smoother and can also reduce the time it takes for your dissolution of marriage to become final.

What Is a Legal Separation?

legal separation is similar to a divorce. The main difference is that a separation is not final. You are still married during and after your legal separation. You may decide to move forward with the divorce. However, the law doesn’t require that you do this.

In a legal separation case, the parties often draft an agreement regarding the same issues you handle in a divorce. A legal separation order is enforceable by the courts, just like a divorce decree.

Missouri Legal Separation Laws: An Overview

You probably have a lot of questions before you file for separation. This is natural. Findlaw’s pages on legal separation and divorce can answer many of the questions you have. You can also review the following section to get a basic understanding of the separation process in Missouri.


Two statutes govern a legal separation in Missouri. These include Section 452.305 and Section 452.310. The first discusses the requirements necessary to file for a legal separation or divorce. The second discusses what information the petition should contain.

These statutes cover issues that may arise during your separation. Missouri has other laws that govern issues like the division of marital property, spousal support, and custody that apply in dissolution (divorce) cases.

Grounds for Legal Separation

Just as Missouri law provides grounds for divorce, they also offer grounds for legal separation. The grounds for separation are similar to those for divorce.

In Missouri, you can cite any of the following as the reason for your legal separation:

  • Adultery
  • Irreparable breakdown of marriage
  • Unreasonable behavior that makes it impossible to live together
  • Abandonment for more than six months
  • The couple has lived apart for at least 24 months prior to filing the petition
  • The couple has, with mutual consent, lived separately for at least 12 months before filing for separation

Deciding to separate is an important decision. Think long and hard before you file your petition. Your choice of a lawyer is also essential. You wouldn’t hire a divorce lawyer to handle your malpractice case. The same is true for legal separation. You wouldn’t get legal advice from a personal injury lawyer for a family law case.

Is There a Waiting Period for a Legal Separation in Missouri?

There is a 30-day waiting period for a legal separation in Missouri. The judge cannot issue your separation order until at least 30 days after you file your petition.

The Courts Don’t Require Legal Separation for Divorce

While it can help to file for legal separation before getting divorced, Missouri law doesn’t require that you do this. You can file for divorce regardless of whether you separate. If your divorce lawyer already negotiated a separation agreement, the divorce process may be more straightforward. This is because the courts can convert your judgment of legal separation into a judgment for divorce.

The legal separation process is similar to the divorce process. When you hire an attorney to help with your divorce case, give them a copy of your separation agreement. They can use this as a starting point for your marital settlement agreement.

Speak With a Family Law Attorney in Missouri

Depending on your situation, a legal separation in Missouri may be preferable to a divorce. Fortunately, you can contact a skilled divorce lawyer in Missouri to help with your legal separation and other family law issues.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Missouri Legal Separation Laws: Related Resources


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