Opening Moves in a Litigated Divorce

Litigation is the most common process option chosen by divorcing couples. While some situations require a trial on the issues, it is important to remember that many divorce cases settle, therefore even if your divorce begins with this litigation process, that does not necessarily mean a trial is inevitable. 

The steps for filing for divorce in Missouri are relatively the same, no matter which process you choose. However, while your divorce is pending, there are a number of events which may occur prior to the conclusion of your case. Understanding each move can help relieve some of the fear and anxiety associated with the process.

Here is a brief overview of what to expect:  

Petition for Dissolution 

All divorce proceedings begin when one spouse files the divorce petition – formally called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, in Missouri – as well as the required financial disclosure documents required by the Court in the county in which you file.

The Petition is filed in the county where one or both spouses reside, and once the clerk processes the petition and financial documents, a case number is assigned. Generally, there is not a particular benefit to being the spouse who files for divorce, but there are some exceptions.


Your spouse must be served with the petition and financial disclosure forms and proof of that service must be provided to the Court.  

Service is a formalized method which notifies your spouse that you have filed for divorce in the circuit court (venue) in which you live. Service can be obtained via personal service through the sheriff’s office or special process server, or your spouse can waive the necessity of personal service by signed a Voluntary Entry of Appearance and Waiver of Service.  Also, if your spouse has already engaged an attorney, that attorney can accept service of process on your spouse’s behalf.

A voluntary entry of appearance is a form your attorney can prepare for you, which requires your spouse to sign in front of a notary public. This form does not concede any allegations in your Petition for Dissolution. It is a way for your spouse, at no cost, to notify the court that he or she has received your Petition and all financial documents and is aware that you have started the divorce process in Court.  It is not uncommon for parties to first try to obtain a party’s voluntary entry of appearance and if your spouse fails to respond, to then have him or her served via sheriff or special process server.


Once service is obtained, your spouse has 30 days to file a response to your Petition. This is called an “Answer.” A proper answer will admit or deny each allegation made in your Petition. Your spouse may also file a Counter-Petition for Dissolution. 

If no Answer is filed, then your spouse will be deemed in default. Your attorney will then schedule a hearing requesting the court grant all requests made in your petition, including ordering your divorce decree be entered. Although this sounds like the simplest approach, if your spouse requests the Default Judgment be set aside, even if he or she makes such a request out of time, the Court is likely to grant that request so he or she may be heard.

In the next article, we look at what comes next in a traditionally litigated divorce.

With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today.