Does fault factor into property and debt division in Missouri?

Most readers are probably aware that, when it comes to property division, different states have different rules. A small group of states utilize an approach to property division known as “community property,” which generally involves an equal division of marital assets. Most states, including Missouri, use an approach generally referred to as equitable distribution.

Under the language of Missouri’s property division statute, courts “divide the marital property and marital debts in such proportions as the court deems just after considering all relevant factors.” There are a variety of factors listed in the statue, and it important for those entering into divorce to have a solid understanding of these and other relevant factors in order to build the best possible case representing their rights and interests.

The factors judges will take into consideration are objective in nature, in the sense that they concern facts rather than judgments of fault. Courts do not take fault into account for purposes of property and debt division–they are not supposed to punish spouses for causing the marriage to fail. That being said, courts do consider “the conduct of the parties during the marriage,” which can indirectly touch upon matters of fault.

For example, a spouse who dissipates a couple’s savings as the marriage is breaking down might later be held responsible for that behavior in property division by receiving less property or taking on more responsibility for debts. Or, a spouse who takes on a boatload of debt against the wishes of the other spouse may end up having to take responsibility for that debt in property division. Judges do have discretion in such matters, so it is important to work with an experienced advocate to make sure one’s interests are zealously advocated in court.

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