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1courtscovid-300x202Effective May 16, 2020, the Missouri Supreme Court’s Order established a four (4) phased plan to reopen courthouses across our State.  This operational directive applies to all State Courts in Missouri and explains the criteria for  how all 46 judicial circuits in Missouri will reopen access to staff, attorneys and the general public.

The four (4) phases transition from the most restrictive (phase “0”) to the least restrictive (phase “3”).  The highlights of the Court’s order are as follows:

In phase “0”, which courthouses across Missouri have largely been operating under since the original Order from the Missouri Supreme Court on March 16, 2020 , all in-person hearings are restricted or prohibited, with few exceptions, such as emergency matters dealing directly with the safety of individuals and proceedings necessary to protect certain constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

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As a result of the ongoing pandemic due to the corona virus, on Friday April 17th the Supreme Court of Missouri extended its order prohibiting in-person1-Supreme-Court-judges-bench-portrait-July-2019-300x205 hearings in Missouri courts, now through May 15th, 2020.  However, despite this limitation,  most courts have adopted protocols to continue to move forward with their cases.  In this blog we discuss the latest on how many local family court judges  are treating existing orders requiring the exchange of custody of  children in light of statewide and local stay-at-home orders, as well as how local courts continue assisting those in need of  protection from domestic violence.

As mentioned in a previously blog, through the use of video conferencing platforms such as Webex and Zoom, family court judges are able to conference with attorneys to handle non-testimonial motions and to hold settlement conferences and pre-trial conferences normally used to discuss the issues of the parties, in an effort to facilitate resolution of issues prior to trial.

St. Charles County Family Court Addresses Custody Orders in Light of the Pandemic.

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1estate-planningSo, you have an estate plan that was created many years ago. Maybe you know where the documents are, or maybe you aren’t sure.  But, what you do know is that many things have changed in your life since you first setup your plan.  In this blog we discuss the importance of having an estate plan that reflects your current life circumstances while also planning for the future.

It is very common to procrastinate when it comes to setting up an estate plan or updating an existing plan.  But, if you have experienced the challenges that come with caring for an ill loved one or  the challenges of managing the affairs for a loved one who has passed away,   you likely realize that one of the best gifts you can give your family is a well considered estate plan.

For an estate plan to be well considered, it should present as a straightforward, clear directive to those who are most important in your life.  As we deal with the current events forced upon our society by the COVID-19 virus it is a good time to make sure our planning is up to date and is not outdated.

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As a result of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 1mediationMissouri and the requirement that citizens practice social distancing to combat the spread of the virus, by order of the Supreme Court of Missouri, every courthouse in Missouri is closed to in-person hearings, with few exceptions.   As of the time of this blog, the order extends through May 15, 2020.

As most litigants experience, our court system’s ability to react to and address issues in a contested dissolution or custody matter can be slow, under the best of circumstances.  With the disruption of dockets and the cancellation of hearings that will need to be reset, it is not difficult to anticipate further delay once the prohibition is lifted and those cases that were delayed are reintegrated into the court’s calendar.

An alternative to the normal litigation process that can shorten the time until the conclusion of your divorce or custody matter is the process of Mediation, which can take place either prior to filing your case or after your case has been filed.   The authority of resolving  legal disputes and specifically family law matters through the use of mediation is established both by statute and by the rules of Supreme Court of Missouri.

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1covid19-300x154In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the direction to increase social distancing, on April 17th, 2020 the Supreme Court of Missouri entered an Order extending its previous prohibition on in-person court appearances through May 15th, 2020.   With the exponential increase in the number of the COVID-19 cases in Missouri, and the previous extension of the closure, we can anticipate the possibility that  this Order will be extended past May 15th, 2020.  This can cause even greater uncertainty for those who are involved with the legal system.    The following is a response to frequently asked questions from non-lawyers regarding their cases, that will hopefully reduce some of that uncertainty:

Does the prohibition on court appearances mean that my case will be starting over?

No. Your case will not be dismissed as a result of the Missouri Supreme Court Order of March 22, 2020.  The prohibition is only applicable to most personal appearances at the court house.    All work and judicial orders, including any previously completed of discovery  and interim judicial orders, entered  prior to the closure of Missouri courthouses remain in effect as part of your on-going matter.   Unless otherwise extended, previous deadlines established by prior court order, Missouri Supreme Court Rule or statute for matters such as the filing of responsive pleadings, the filing of motions and the answering of discovery remain in effect.

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father-Son-300x150The family law system in the State of Missouri has recently seen a significant shift in the potential success of claims of third parties seeking custody rights with minor children.  This shift was further defined by a recent decision from the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals.

In the context of custody litigation in Missouri, a “Third-Party” most often refers to an individual who is not a biological or adoptive parent who is seeking specific custody rights with a minor child.   Often this individual has a biological or marital relationship to the child, such as a grandparent, aunt or uncle.  However, a biological relationship with a child is not a requirement for a “Third-Party” seeking custody rights.

Section 452.375 of our Missouri Statutes provide in part with regard to Third Party custody or visitation, as follows:

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mizzou-300x199While it is not mandatory in Missouri that a divorced mother and father contribute to their children’s college expenses, Missouri family courts may order either parent to contribute to the cost of their children’s continuing education.  This can be done after a contested trial, or it can become an order of a court through a settlement agreement reached by divorcing parents. In fact, this may be done years prior to the children entering college.  In our blog we address how an obligation to pay towards a child’s college expenses may impact a parent’s child support obligation.

As we have addressed in previous blogs, in Missouri the presumed amount of child support a parent must pay to the other parent is determined through the utilization of a Form 14.   To determine the amount of support this form relies upon many factors, not the least of which are the income levels of the individual parents, the number of children and the details of the parent’s physical custody schedule.  What is not explicitly factored into the calculation is the cost of the child’s college education for which the paying parent may also be responsible.

Should An Obligation to Pay College Expenses Reduce Child Support?

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missouri-childrenIn most cases, child support  in Missouri ends when a child graduates high school after his eighteenth birthday.  As we have addressed in previous blogs, a parent’s Missouri child support obligation may also continue until a child’s twenty first birthday if that child continues his education beyond high school and meets the criteria as set forth by Missouri statute. However, in limited extenuating circumstances, a parent’s child support can be extended well past the age of emancipation; in extreme circumstances, it can be extended indefinitely. An experienced Missouri family law attorney can assist you if this circumstance applies to you.

 A physically or mentally incapacitated child

According to Missouri law, a parent’s child support obligation may be extended beyond a child’s eighteenth or twenty first birthday, if that child is physically or mentally incapacitated from supporting himself and insolvent and unmarried.

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law-libraryAs we have discussed in previous blogs, the method to calculate the presumed child support amount in Missouri Family Courts is dictated by Missouri  Supreme Court Rule and through the use of the  “Form 14”.    Effective July 1, 2017 a new version of the Form 14 will take effect.  In this blog we take a look at a couple of the major changes that could impact your Missouri child support.

Overnight custody adjustment

When calculating child support through the use of the Form 14, one of the significant factors impacting  the amount of child support ordered is the number of overnight custody periods the paying parent is awarded in the family’s custody plan.   In effect, the more time the children are in the physical custody of the paying parent the Form 14 adjusts, and the award of child support may be reduced. This adjustment is calculated on line 11 of the Form 14.

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pension planIn today’s blog we discuss the consideration of future pension benefits in the division of marital property in Missouri Family Courts.

In previous blogs, we have addressed the entitlement of divorcing spouses to retirement benefits accumulated during the marriage.  In circumstances when the parties have accumulated, during the marriage, savings in a retirement savings plan such as a 401(k) Plan, 403(b) Plan, 457 Plan, Thrift Savings Plan, or IRA, the division of these assets is relatively simple.  The present day value of the retirement asset can be verified through the most recent statement or by simply logging on to the account to check the balance.  In determining the marital interest, the Court will consider the amount of that value that has accumulated during the marriage.  That amount is generally marital property and will be considered in the division of assets in the overall marital estate.

However, in cases where a spouse has accumulated interest in a defined benefit pension plan the Court’s consideration of the value of that marital asset is not as simple.  When a spouse accumulates an interest in a pension plan, the following three stages are to be considered in the accumulation of that asset: an interest in the pension plan that has not vested; an interest in the pension plan that has vested but has not matured to the point where the spouse is entitled to receive payment from the Plan; and the final stage, when a Plan is vested and has matured to the point where the spouse is entitled to receive the specific benefits defined in the Plan.  In the final stage, the benefit is most often paid out in a specific monthly installments beginning when the employee/spouse reaches a certain age and/or has accumulated a specific amount of years of service time.

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