Last summer, as Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, the media (and social media in particular) were abuzz about laws in a handful of states, including Missouri, that prevent couples from divorcing if one spouse is pregnant. Let’s look at what Missouri law actually says and what that means for expectant couples who want to end their marriage.
First, divorce during pregnancy is not strictly prohibited under the law. Missouri’s statute simply states that one of the pieces of information that a petitioner in a divorce needs to provide is “[w]hether the wife is pregnant.” However, judges typically will require that the baby be born before the divorce is finalized.
Why judges don’t want to finalize the divorce before the baby arrives
The primary reason given for this is that they want to wait until the baby is born before determining child-related issues like custody and support. While there’s no reason why these things can’t be determined during the pregnancy, one line of thought is that if the baby is born with serious health issues or a disability, that could require a modification of these orders.
Another potential issue is that of paternity. If a couple is married when the baby is born, the husband is typically presumed to be the biological father. If they are divorced, there could be complications around designation of the child’s legal father.
The rationality of these reasons can certainly be debated. However, it’s worthwhile to be aware that a Missouri judge will likely require a couple to wait until the baby is born for the divorce decree and other agreements to be finalized.
This doesn’t mean you have to remain in an unhappy or abusive home
A couple can still live separately and proceed with the process of negotiating their agreements so that the divorce can be finalized when the baby arrives. If there’s an issue of abuse, a restraining order can certainly be sought. There’s also a chance that you’ll get a judge who will be agreeable to signing off on the divorce before the birth.
Pursuing divorce during pregnancy is always going to be an emotional, complicated process, no matter what state you live in. Having sound legal guidance is key to protecting your and your unborn child’s rights and best interests.