In Missouri, a Legal Separation has a “trap door.” A legal separation in Missouri is the same as a divorce, except the parties are not requesting that the court dissolve the marriage. Property is divided and maintenance is decided, and the Court, as it always does, has jurisdiction over the children for custody and child support purposes. Missouri law states clearly that the division of property of the Legal Separation is final, that after a legal separation both parties can set it aside, and that ninety days after the legal separation one of the parties can convert it to a divorce.
Perhaps the best way to explain the “trap door” is with an illustration.
Ken and Barbara met in high school and married right after college. Ken was a football player majoring in business and Barbara followed Ken to college and majored in linguistics. Graduation, jobs, children makes time fly. Barbara became a stay-at-home mom when it became apparent that Ken’s career took off. Now it appears to Barbara that her marriage is unraveling. Although she suspected for several years, Barbara discovered that Ken had been unfaithful. In addition, Barbara discovered Ken had an entirely separate set of accounts and credit cards. He led a second life.
Barbara came to my office as a last resort. She had done a lot of reading on the internet, and received counsel from her religious leaders. Barbara was convinced that she could win back her husband, and that a legal separation was the only option. She also hoped that Ken’s insurance coverage would continue for her as a recent biopsy indicated chemotherapy would be necessary, and Barbara hadn’t worked outside the home for more than a decade.
She showed me a Separation Agreement that she worked out with Ken, and which was drafted by Ken’s lawyer. The settlement wasn’t fair to Barbara. It wasn’t even an equal division of property. Ken’s secret accounts were passed to Ken as a single line-item. Barbara was focused on trying to win back Ken, so she didn’t want to take things that were “important” to Ken. In return, Ken promised to keep Barbara on his medical insurance.
I had to explain to Barbara about Missouri’s legal separation several times before she understood. Barbara was focused on surviving and saving her marriage. She bargained away a significant amount of property in order to keep her husband’s insurance. Barbara’s goal was to beat cancer, then save her marriage. Barbara finally understood that her husband could convert the legal separation to a divorce just ninety days later, and that she would not have an opportunity to revise the division of property. Although health insurance can be continued for a wife after a legal separation, it is a business, not legal, decision, and insurance companies are increasingly not permitting coverage for a spouse not residing with the plan participant.
The attorneys at The Roach Law Firm offer complimentary consultations. There is never a reason to sign a document without consulting one of our attorneys. The best strategy is to have an experienced attorney in your corner as you negotiate any settlement, an attorney who also has the litigation skills if settlement turns into a trial.