The Schechter Law Firm, P.C. in St. Louis has over 100 years of experience in the area of Missouri family law. Our attorneys are experts in every aspect of matrimonial law and provide strong and effective representation on every issue, whether settling the case or dealing with the matter through litigation. Please see below for a brief overview of the different ways we help our clients in our major areas of practice. For advice and representation in a divorce, child custody dispute, support, or other family law matter, contact The Schechter Law Firm, P.C. to speak with one of our caring and capable attorneys.
Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)
Divorce is a stressful time for all parties involved. Our job is to make sure that your immediate and long-term goals are considered in a deliberate and thoughtful manner, and we devote our negotiation and litigation skills toward realizing those goals on your behalf. Our lawyers handle the full range of dissolution matters, from uncontested divorces to cases involving contentious custody disputes, support issues, and complex marital and nonmarital assets. See our Dissolution of Marriage page for more information.
Division Of Marital Assets
Marital property is not always divided equally, but only in a manner that the court deems fair and just. Many factors go into this judicial determination, including the contribution each spouse has made towards acquiring the marital property, the economic circumstances of each spouse, and the conduct of the spouses during the marriage. Obtaining the proper characterization of assets as marital or nonmarital property, and determining an appropriate value for those assets, are critical to receiving a fair deal in the property settlement. Our attorneys are experienced in high-value assets and estates, as well as complex matters such as closely-held business interests, pensions, stock ownership, and ownership of real property.
Protection Of Nonmarital Property
Generally, property that was owned or acquired before marriage, and property that was acquired by gift or inheritance, belongs to that spouse as separate property and is not subject to division by the court. Some property acquired during marriage may even be separate property as well, depending upon how it was acquired. However, there are many ways in which separate property can become marital property. We utilize our knowledge and experience in the most complex property matters to ensure that assets are properly characterized as separate or marital property, safeguarded or challenged, and dealt with accordingly.
Many factors determine the amount of maintenance that may be awarded and the length of time that it may be paid. Significant factors include the length of the marriage, the ages and health of the spouses, and their income, expenses (standard of living), assets and earning capacity. Another factor that may come into play is the conduct of the parties during the marriage. The most important fact to know about maintenance in Missouri is that it is not automatically granted in every divorce. The party seeking maintenance must prove the need for support according to a two-prong test set out in state law. See our page on Maintenance for more information.
The court determines whether to award custody primarily to one parent or whether custody will be shared jointly by both parents. The court decides not only which parent gets physical custody of the child, but also who will be responsible for making important decisions regarding the child's health, education, and welfare. While the wishes of the parents and the child are considered along with a host of other factors, the main concern of the court is what is in the best interests of the children. Please see our Child Custody page for more information.
Both parents have an obligation to support their children financially, and the court will usually order the non-custodial parent to pay a monthly support amount to the custodial parent. Courts utilize state guidelines to determine the amount of support, which is based on both parents' incomes, as well as the needs of the child, including costs of health insurance, child care, and any extraordinary medical expenses or other special needs. Child support usually lasts until the child turns 18, but may continue longer if the child goes on to a post-secondary school.
Motions to Modify
Once a final judgment is entered, it is difficult to change existing domestic relations orders. However, it is possible to change child custody and support orders upon a showing of changed circumstances that justify the modification. For instance, perhaps the income or expenses of either spouse has changed, or the needs of the child have changed. Also, the need or desire for one parent to relocate out of state or a significant distance from the other parent may require the court to revisit the custody and visitation arrangement.
A biological father may have the legal right to custody and visitation, as well as be held legally responsible for the payment of child support. It may be necessary to engage in a legal proceeding to determine parentage. We represent clients seeking to establish or challenge paternity to determine issues of custody and support. We also handle modifications of paternity actions.
Domestic Violence and Child Abuse
Missouri law basically defines "abuse" to include physical assault, harassment, or stalking against a present or former family or household member, as well as attempts or threats against another person. The main legal weapon against such abuse is the order of protection, through which a court may restrain an abuser from further abuse or threats. The order of protection can require the alleged abuser to move out of the house shared with the victim and restrain the abuser from having any contact with the person seeking the order. An order of protection may also make child custody decisions where appropriate.
An ex parte order can be sought and issued without a hearing or notice to the alleged abuser in order to provide immediate protection to the victim of abuse. A full order of protection can only be issued after a hearing in court or by consent of both parties. The alleged abuser must ultimately be notified of the proceedings and have an opportunity to appear at the hearing and challenge the order. Our firm handles cases prosecuting and defending allegations of both adult abuse and child abuse in ex parte matters and hearings on full orders of protection.
Sometimes parties may prefer an indefinite separation to divorce, whether on religious grounds or for practical reasons such as health insurance, or because they are not yet ready to emotionally dissolve the marriage. A legal separation formalizes this arrangement by entering provisions concerning custody, support, and division of property and debt. Whether the separation eventually culminates in a divorce or a reconciliation, establishing a formal, legal separation can solve some religious, emotional, or practical problems.
Sometimes it is necessary to challenge a trial court's ruling after a final judgment. This process, an appeal, is taken to the Missouri Court of Appeals and, following that if necessary, to the Supreme Court of Missouri. The prosecution of an appeal is a specific art in and of itself. We are expert in every facet of the appellate process, including the writing of briefs (written arguments) and oral argument.
Enforcement of Orders
Once a final judgment is obtained, there are occasions when the opposing party does not comply with various orders, whether it is financial or custody-related. It then becomes necessary to enforce those orders through various means, including family access orders, garnishments, wage withholdings, and motions for contempt. We utilize all of these tools to ensure the best possible result in enforcing an order that was successfully obtained.
Motions for Contempt
One of the tools to enforce a specific order in a final judgment is a motion for contempt. With that motion, which requires the presentation of evidence, the party seeking to enforce the order must show the court that the disobedient party understood the order and had the ability to comply with it. If these requirements are met, the court can punish a person for violating an order, including a fine or incarceration. We routinely file and prosecute motions for contempt to get the best possible results for our clients.
Experienced Missouri Family Law Attorneys
At The Schechter Law Firm, P.C., we provide comprehensive representation throughout the dissolution process and beyond, handling every aspect of the matter that arises, including appeals, enforcement of existing orders, and motions for contempt. Contact our office to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our experienced family law attorneys, and let us help you realize your goals now and into the future.