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Posts Distort Missouri Divorce Law Regarding Pregnancy

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Quick Take

There’s no law in Missouri that prevents pregnant women from getting divorced. But social media posts claim Missouri women “cannot divorce their spouse if they are pregnant.” Legal experts told us a judge may wait to finalize a divorce until after a baby is born to determine custody and other arrangements.

Full Story

Nowhere in Missouri law does it say pregnant women are barred from getting divorced.

But a judge handling a case where one party is pregnant may wait to finalize that divorce until the baby is born, which, experts told us, is done in order to consolidate custody and child-support agreements with other end-of-marriage arrangements.

This can happen in other states, too.

But recent posts on social media have revived an old claim that first circulated in 2022, saying, “Women in Republican-controlled Missouri cannot divorce their spouse if they are pregnant.”

That version of the claim was shared by Brian Tyler Cohen, a liberal commentator with a large social media following who we’ve written about before. His Instagram post garnered more than 10,000 likes and was copied and reposted by others, including MSNBC commentator Joy Reid.

Cohen is misrepresenting divorce procedures in Missouri, though.

Either spouse is free to file for a divorce during pregnancy in Missouri. Someone petitioning for divorce must answer eight questions, including the dates of marriage and separation, proposed custody and support arrangements for any existing children, and “[w]hether the wife is pregnant.”

Barbara Glesner Fines, a professor and dean emerita of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, explained to us in an email, “Nothing in the statute permits a court to make any judgments regarding custody or support for an unborn child, so those arrangements need to be made after the child is born. Likewise, there is nothing in the statutes that expressly prohibits a court from finalizing a divorce while a party is pregnant.”

“Procedurally,” she said, “a court could grant the divorce and make arrangements for child custody and support for any children who have been born. Then, if and when another child is born after the divorce, one of the parents could bring a separate action for parentage, custody and support for that child.”

The claim first circulated online in 2022, when news outlets published stories about women in Missouri who had experienced delays in their divorce proceedings due to pregnancy. The articles included comments from some lawyers who attested to the custom of Missouri judges to wait until birth to finalize a divorce, although none of them pointed to a statute or court rule that mandated judges to do so.

“I suspect that the real reason they aren’t granting divorces comes down to efficiency,” Fines said. “If the court waits until the child is born, issues of divorce, property division, parentage, parenting plans, and support can all be determined in one action. If the court determines these issues while a parent is pregnant, there will have to be a second court case after the child is born. The court will have to reconsider all the same complicated factors for custody and support that it did in the first action and it is possible that the custody and support decisions for any children involved in the first action might need to be altered.”

“So, bottom line, what I suspect is happening is that courts are exercising their discretion to schedule hearings and render judgments in a way that is more efficient,” Fines said.

Mary Kay O’Malley, director of the Child and Family Services Clinic at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, agreed. “It’s not a statute in the divorce law — what it is is a practicality issue,” she told us in a phone interview.

Importantly, Missouri is one of 22 states that has adopted a version of the Uniform Law Commission’s Parentage Act, which offers a legal framework for parent-child relationships that is consistent across states.

That act, as adopted into Missouri state law, says, “A man shall be presumed to be the natural father of a child if” the baby is born within 300 days of the end of the marriage “by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or dissolution,” which is the legal term for divorce in Missouri.

So, the law “contemplates that divorce could be granted during pregnancy,” Courtney Joslin, a professor at University of California, Davis School of Law and contributor to the most recent update of the Uniform Parentage Act in 2017, told us in a phone interview.

Joslin explained that California, where she lives and works, also has nothing in state law “that precludes granting a divorce when a spouse is pregnant.” She pointed to the 300-day rule, which is also in California state law.

The recent focus on Missouri in social media posts is likely due to a bill introduced by state Rep. Ashley Aune that would change the law to specifically state that a divorce could be finalized if the couple is expecting a baby. The proposed addition to the state’s existing law says: “Pregnancy status shall not prevent the court from entering a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation.”

A similar bill was introduced in Texas in 2023, but it died in committee.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.


Gore, D’Angelo. “NTSB Chair Contradicts Posts That Wrongly Claim Trump to Blame for Ohio Train Wreck.” FactCheck.org. 28 Feb 2023.

Missouri Courts. Dissolution of Marriage. Accessed 12 Mar 2024.

Missouri Revisor of Statutes. Title XXX Domestic Relations. Chapter 452. Last revised 28 Aug 2016.

Glesner Fines, Barbara. Professor, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Email to FactCheck.org. 1 Mar 2024.

Krull, Ryan. “Pregnant Women Can’t Get Divorced in Missouri.” Riverfront Times. 13 Jul 2022.

Spoerre, Anna. “Women in Missouri can’t get a divorce while pregnant. Many fear what this means post-Roe.” Kansas City Star. 20 Jul 2022.

O’Malley, Mary. Director of the Child and Family Services Clinic, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. 29 Feb 2024.

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