Informal or “Kitchen Table” Negotiations

The Informal model of divorce negotiations is also called “Kitchen Table” or the “One Lawyer” model. In the Kitchen Table model, the negotiations and discussions occur directly between the spouses. If one spouse hires an attorney, that attorney provides advice to the spouse who is the attorney’s client but the attorney does not get involved directly in the negotiating process. Because people envision this model as two people sitting at a kitchen table talking through their issues, the phrase “Kitchen Table” is often applied to this informal negotiation option.

Yvonne Homeyer is an attorney in Clayton who works with clients who want to use the Informal or Kitchen Table model for reaching agreement on their divorce issues.

In the Kitchen Table model, the attorney will guide the client through the decisions that must be made by the couple in order to meet the requirements of Missouri law. The spouse represented by an attorney—usually the Petitioner—will then make sure that both spouses discuss all the required divorce issues. Decisions include division of property and debt and a decision of whether either spouse will receive maintenance (maintenance can be waived by one or both spouses). If there are children of the marriage, then the couple must also make decisions about a parenting schedule (“physical custody”), decision-making authority (“legal custody”), and providing for the children’s financial needs (“child support”).

At any time, the other spouse may consult with an attorney to get independent legal advice. However, in the Kitchen Table model, the attorneys remain in the background, working separately with each client and not negotiating with each other on behalf of their clients.

When the couple have made all the necessary decisions, the attorney for the Petitioner will prepare a Settlement Agreement (also called a Separation Agreement). If there are children, the spouses also need to prepare a worksheet to calculate child support (called Form 14) and a Parenting Plan. The attorney will also prepare additional documents such as Petition for Dissolution of Marriage to start the legal proceedings, an Entry of Appearance for the other spouse, an Income & Expense Statement, a Property Statement, and a Judgment.

When all the legal documents have been signed, the attorney acting for the Petitioner spouse will file the documents in court. After a short period of time, the Petitioner’s attorney will return to court to finalize the matter and get the judge to sign a Judgment. The type of judgment depends on the type of matter (Judge of Dissolution of Marriage, Judgment of Legal Separation, Judgment of Modification, Judgment of Paternity, etc.).

In some instances, the spouses can proceed by affidavit and neither would have to appear in court. But depending on the circumstances, the court might require the Petitioner to appear with his or her attorney for a brief hearing on the court’s non-contested docket.

The Respondent spouse (the non-filing spouse) is not required to file any pleadings and is not required to hire an attorney but may do so.

It is important to understand that no lawyer can ever, under any circumstances, represent both spouses in a divorce. That would be an impermissible conflict of interest. Therefore, when we talk about the “one lawyer” model, we mean that one spouse hires a lawyer and generally, the other spouse does not. There is no requirement that there only be one lawyer. This is just a descriptive phrase expressing how some people utilize the Kitchen Table process.

The Kitchen Table option can be used not only in divorces but also for Legal Separation, Paternity matters, Motions to Modify (child support, custody, or maintenance), or any other family law matter.

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