Missouri Divorce Laws and 401(k)

Missouri courts encourage divorcing spouses to settle their property disputes before the hearing.
Missouri courts encourage divorcing spouses to settle their property disputes before the hearing. (Image: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

In Missouri, before a court can issue a final divorce decree, divorcing spouses must enter into a written agreement addressing each spouse’s parental responsibilities if they have minor children and must completely allocate and dispose of any marital property between them or request a court’s assistance in doing so. Missouri courts follow the legal doctrine of equitable property distribution, and judges strive to distribute property equitably between divorcing spouses.

Equitable Distribution

Most states are equitable distribution jurisdictions, and the underlying concept of equitable distribution is that judges should divide all marital assets and debts as equitably as possible. In equitable distribution states, property acquired before the marriage or property acquired separately by gift or inheritance during a marriage remains separate. For example, a spouse who owned an investment account before the marriage and did not commingle the funds into marital funds after the marriage can retain sole ownership of the separate account. Marital property, however, is property acquired by either spouse after the marriage excluding gifts and inheritances.

Ownership of Retirement Account

In equitable distribution states, 401(k) retirement accounts can be marital, separate or part marital and part separate. For example, if Mrs. Smith owned a 401(k) account before meeting Mr. Smith, and she earned $10,000 in her account before marriage, then under the equitable distribution concept, she would retain ownership to the 401(k) up to $10,000. However, if Mrs. Smith’s 401(k) account earned another $50,000 during the marriage, then Mr. Smith has a legal right to request $25,000 of the 401(k) while Mrs. Smith can request $35,000.


Although Missouri courts must presume marital property is subject to equitable distribution between the parties and will attempt to divide the property equally, they must consider any relevant factors. Relevant factors, according to Missouri divorce law, includes custody arrangements, contributions to the marriage by each spouse, spousal conduct during the marriage, the financial circumstances or conditions of each spouse, the value of any separate property and whether one spouse was primarily at fault for ending the marriage.

401(k) Distribution

In addition to considering any relevant statutory factors, Missouri law allows judges to consider “any other relevant factors,” according to Section 452.330 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Thus, the court has the discretion to award a larger share of the 401(k) based on the interests of justice and equity if one party can convince the court to award him with a larger share.


Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.

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