Frequently Asked Questions of Divorce Lawyers in St. Louis
Why do Divorce Attorneys in St. Louis cost so much?
Attorneys who handle divorce in St. Louis are expected to know and keep up to date with all the Missouri and local laws that pertain to divorce, paternity, child support, child custody, property division, the splitting of debts, modification arguments. They must also be able to steer a client to a tax attorney or a bankruptcy attorney when these areas of law might be at issue.
Many divorce attorneys in St. Louis call themselves “Family Law Attorneys” instead of “divorce lawyers” just because the expertise needed to do this work is so broad. The issues that divorce attorneys confront help are some of the most important: the care and support of children, dividing household assets and debts fairly, paternity, and the best interests of the children. Qualified divorce attorneys fight hard for their clients, many times on an emergency basis, as things happen quickly in situations involving money, children, and parties who are angry.
If I file in for divorce in St. Louis what can I expect to happen?
First, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage is filed with the St. Louis County or St. Louis City court (we also handle St. Charles and Jefferson counties). This outlines who the two individuals separating are, where they live, when and where they married, where they work, if they have any children, how long they have lived in Missouri (90 days residency is required for at least one of the parties, husband or wife) and whether either party is in the military. The cost (filing fee) to file a Petition in St. Louis County is $140, and the fee in St. Charles is $125. In the City of St. Louis it is $209.
Your Financial Documents must be filed along with the Petition – you will have to fill out a “Statement of Income & Expenses” which details your work, how much you make, and monthly expenses. The second financial document is a “Statement of Property,” which outlines all the assets (cars, house, jewelry, whatever) and lists all the debts and mortgages. Your spouse will have to fill out the same papers. All of this must be sworn to under oath. Our staff will help you fill them out.
Service – After the Petition is filed, a “Summons” is drawn up by the court, and delivered to your husband or wife (the “Respondent” or “your spouse” for purposes of this outline) either by a Sheriff or by a Special Process Server. The Respondent is simply the other party, not the one who filed for divorce. When the Respondent is served, the clock starts on Respondent’s 30 day period he or she has to answer.
Answer – if your spouse hires his or her own attorney, that attorney will draw up an Answer to the Petition. It reads pretty much like the Petition, also outlining who the parties are, where they live, if they have children, etc. The Respondent also has to fill out and file his or her own Financial Statements, just like you did.
Default – if your spouse doesn’t hire an attorney and file an Answer and financial statements, then he or she will be in “default” after 30 days. A Default Hearing can be held at the court, and at that hearing you can tell the court how you want your property divided and what child custody arrangements you want. If your spouse does not show up the judge will give you a divorce judgment, consistent with your testimony, the law and what the judge thinks is fair. Your spouse can ask that this default judgment be set aside for one year and the judge may do so if it seems fair. Your spouse can also appear at the default hearing without an attorney, but will probably be told by the judge to hire an attorney to address property and debt division, and child custody.
Waiver of Service – if your spouse wants to cooperate in the divorce without hiring his or her own attorney, they can sign a “Waiver of Service” form, so that they don’t have to be served by a Sheriff. They can, without an attorney, negotiate with your attorney for property division, debt division, and child custody arrangements. As long as everyone can agree, this can be a cheaper and faster method of getting the couple divorced. If, at any time, your spouse thinks he or she needs legal representation, he or she can hire an attorney and have that attorney review the agreements.
Parenting Plan – Both parents are required to file their proposed Parenting Plans, which are usually standard but can be tailored to specific circumstances. They outline days/times for shared custody, and child support requirements.
Document Exchange – the court requires each party to provide, within 60 days, Federal and State tax returns and W-2s for the past three years, paycheck stubs for the past three months, and receipts or proof of expenses for the children – day care, medical expenses, health insurance costs, etc., for 12 months.
Maintenance – this used to be called alimony. The court can order either party to pay maintenance to the other if one of the parties was a “dependant spouse,” – for instance, a homemaker staying home with the children. Usually maintenance is for a limited time period, to allow the dependant spouse time to finish his or her education and gain work skills, or to find a reasonable job. Proving that you deserve maintenance requires that you give the court many more documents.
Settlement Conferences – the attorney who files the divorce petition will set up a Settlement Conference within 90 days at the court, where both attorneys, and their clients, will meet with the judge and hash out property and custody issues. Sometimes the court will issue an order for temporary custody or child support at this time. A trial date may be scheduled, a pre-trial conference may be scheduled, or, if agreement seems likely, a non-contested hearing may be set up, at this time.
Settlement Agreement, or Separation Agreement – eventually, whether through trial or amicably, a Separation Agreement is drawn up dividing property and debts, and a Parenting Agreement regarding custody and child support will be attached, if it applies. The judge will sign an Order of Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, which will have these Agreements attached, and this makes the divorce final. There must be at least 30 days from the date the Petition was filed until the decree is final.
Motion to Modify – if you are already divorced, and things change, you may need to modify the original divorce decree. For instance, if you are receiving child support and you know that your ex-spouse has a new, much higher-paying job, you should file a Motion to Modify for increased child support. If you are paying child support, and your ex-spouse gets a new, much higher paying job, you may want to file a Motion to Modify to get your child support payments reduced.
If I file for a divorce in St. Louis, how much will it cost in legal fees?
It will cost a lot. As you can see from the above discussion, a divorce triggers complex issues that will affect you, your future financial position, and your children for the rest of your life.
I often tell my clients that it will cost as much as the other side makes it cost. If there is a tremendous amount of animosity, or one spouse does not really want a divorce and drags their feet on all the issues, the costs will rise and rise. If there is no agreement on the issues, especially with regard to child custody and visitation the legal costs can go into the tens of thousands. I am personally familiar with a custody suit that has already cost both sides over $40,000 and it is still going on. All of us have heard of these cases. If yours is not one of them, be grateful.
What are your rates?
Like most divorce attorneys in St. Louis my rates are low compared to other urban areas such as Chicago or Los Angeles. At this time, the rate for Barbra Behrens’ representation is $200/ hour. The work of the paralegal is currently $85/hour. These rates may be adjusted in the future.
An initial consultation with Barbara Behrens Law Firm is $85.
If, after the initial meeting, both you and I decide that we can work together I will require a “retainer” to get started. This is by no means an indication of what the total cost will be. It just covers the first work that I do and it guarantees that I will be paid before I start working for a client. I will withdraw if you do not keep current on my bill. The best way that I can keep my rate low for my paying clients is to insist that every client pay and withdraw if a client does not pay their bill.
The retainer money is put in a Missouri Bar Association Trust Fund (escrow account). If work is completed before the retainer is gone, you will get a refund from me.