In determining the division of property in a divorce, Missouri follows the legal principle of equitable distribution, meaning that marital assets are divided in a way that the judge deems fair. Equitable distribution does not necessarily entail an equal division of assets. Couples may avoid having a court be the one to determine the division of property by drafting and signing their own divorce settlement agreement. If they are unable to reach an accord, the court will need to go through several steps to determine how to fairly divide the couple’s property.
First, it will order a discovery process to determine which assets and debts are in fact marital property and which are separate property. Marital property is considered to be any property that is acquired by either spouse during marriage and prior to a decree of legal separation, unless the property was excluded by written agreement, acquired through gift or inheritance, or unless the increase in value of pre-marital separate property was not due to the efforts of the other spouse during marriage.
Once the marital property and debts are identified, the court will determine how much these assets and debts are worth before it orders a distribution of these assets. The court will consider the parties’ conduct during marriage and their contributions to the family unit, the custody arrangements for any children and the value of each spouse’s nonmarital property. Other considerations include the economic circumstances of each party and the pros and cons of awarding one spouse or the other something like a family home.
Property division can often be a contentious part of divorce proceedings. However, to take the decision out of a judge’s hands, it may be advisable for each spouse to consult with separate counsel to determine if a negotiated agreement is a possibility.
Source: Divorce Support, “Missouri Property Division Factors“, September 15, 2014