Divorce is a very personal and highly challenging legal process for everyone who endures it. Even when spouses are entirely ready to end their marriage and see no potential for reconciliation, the actual process of dissolving a marriage contract is often more complex and demanding than many people realize at first. If you are convinced that your marriage needs to end and you are unsure of how to go about the process, it’s essential to understand the basic framework of a Columbia, MO, divorce. No matter what unique issues your divorce may include, every divorce must address a few key issues, though the divorcing spouses may have multiple options regarding how they settle these matters.

The right attorney will make a tremendous difference in the outcome of your divorce, no matter how you choose to handle the process. You can rely on your attorney to provide ongoing support and guidance as you begin divorce proceedings, helping you make more informed decisions about the direction of your case.

Child Custody and Child Support

If you and your spouse have children together, determining custody rights will be the most important and emotionally challenging aspect of your divorce process. The thought of sharing custody with your spouse may be unbearable, but it’s vital to separate your personal feelings about your soon-to-be ex-spouse from your shared obligations as parents. While you may have a severe disdain for your co-parent, your children likely do not see things the same way. Whatever the reason for your divorce may be, unless your spouse has done anything to harm your children or otherwise proved they are unfit to parent, they will have the right to be a part of your children’s lives after your divorce.

Missouri family court judges determine custody based on their evaluation of the children’s best interests. Therefore, the judge overseeing your case will consider multiple factors, including you and your co-parent’s respective availability and work schedules, levels of involvement in your children’s everyday lives, and where the two of you intend to live after finalizing your divorce. Generally, family court judges try to avoid disrupting the lives of children as much as possible.

Your custody determination will involve three main components: physical custody, legal custody, and child support. Physical custody rights determine where the children spend their time. If both parents remain close to one another and their children’s schools, extended relatives, and medical providers, joint custody is possible as long as both parents have the space and availability to maintain joint custody. In other cases, one parent may be better suited to assume a majority share of physical custody. Legal custody pertains to the ability to make decisions on a child’s behalf. As long as both parents are fit, a judge will likely rule in favor of joint legal custody regardless of the parents’ physical custody terms. This means the parents must consult one another before making important decisions on behalf of their children.

Child support determination largely hinges on the parents’ respective custody rights and incomes. When one spouse obtains a more significant share of physical custody than the other, this inherently increases their living expenses due to the cost of maintaining living space and meeting basic needs for their children. As a result, the other parent will likely owe them child support. A judge will calculate the combined child support obligation of both parents and divide this in half to determine each parent’s support obligation. The parent with greater physical custody will then receive support from the other parent. If the parents share physical custody 50/50, the lower-earning parent usually receives support from the higher-earning parent.

Property Division

Missouri follows the equitable distribution standard regarding property division in divorce. When a couple has a judge oversee their divorce in litigation, the judge will strive to determine the fairest division of their marital property. It is important to note that this does not necessarily mean each spouse will receive an equal share of marital property. Unlike community property states that require strict 50/50 division of marital assets and debts, equitable distribution states evaluate numerous factors such as each spouse’s income, job prospects, separate property ownership, and education to determine the most equitable division of property.

If one spouse earns significantly less income than the other or is financially dependent on their spouse, the judge may not only award the disadvantaged spouse a more significant share of marital property but also spousal support, also known as alimony. When a spouse is required to pay alimony, the amount they pay typically hinges on income difference between the spouses, while the time they must continue making payments depends on how long the couple was married. Alimony ends when the timeframe expires, when the recipient remarries or starts living with a new partner, or when either spouse dies.

How Should I Settle These Issues?

Your divorce will likely include numerous issues, not all of which will be easy to manage. You may face a great deal of uncertainty in your divorce case and have no idea about your best available options for handling the situation. While most people assume they must resolve their divorces in litigation, this isn’t necessarily true. Many couples choose alternative dispute resolution to save time and money on their divorces, and this route generally allows the divorcing spouses to have more influence over the final result.

Divorce mediation and collaborative divorce are the most popular methods of alternative dispute resolution used in Columbia, MO, divorce cases. Both options have certain advantages, but it’s important to remember that you will eventually need to go to court to resolve some aspects of your divorce. For example, even if you and your spouse negotiate every detail of your divorce agreement, you will likely need a family court judge to review and approve your divorce order before it takes legal effect. You may also need to later revisit your divorce order through the modification process if unexpected life events render your current divorce order untenable.

No matter what your unique situation may entail, the most important asset to have on your side in a complex divorce case is legal representation. The right attorney can help you determine the best option for resolving your divorce and guide you through your proceedings. Contact an experienced Columbia, MO, divorce attorney as soon as you have decided to end your marriage.