In 2021, Mississippi ranked as the ninth state with the highest divorce rate, according to data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. The Magnolia State has been exhibiting a downward trend in its divorce rate since 2010. But this trend was broken in 2020 when Mississippi saw a 30.1% hike in divorce rates, the second-largest increase nationwide.
Mississippi is one of the only two remaining states that still do not have a unilateral no-fault divorce, the other one being South Dakota. This means that to have a no-fault divorce in Mississippi, both spouses must agree that they have irreconcilable differences. The absence of a “true” no-fault divorce can cause significant delays in the process.
With the situation remaining unchanged, it is important for anyone considering a divorce to understand the existing laws on the matter. This article will discuss the key points when getting a divorce in Mississippi and answer some of the frequently asked questions on the legal process.
Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Mississippi
Mississippi residents who wish to terminate their marriage can choose between divorce and annulment. The state does not recognize legal separation, but it offers maintenance orders as an alternative. The differences between these legal options will be discussed in this section.
Divorce is a court order terminating a valid marriage.
A divorce is considered contested if one or both spouses have objections to the terms of the divorce. A contested divorce may require mediation and a trial before a final divorce agreement can be reached. If neither spouse has any problems with the terms of a divorce, it is considered an uncontested divorce.
To file for divorce in Mississippi, one of the spouses must have been living in the state for at least six months. This rule also applies to those who have been stationed in the state as part of their military service.
Annulment is the judicial process of voiding an invalid marriage as if it had never happened. Some of the grounds for an invalid marriage in Mississippi include fraud, impotence, lack of cohabitation, bigamy, mental illness at the time of marriage, and incest.
Due to the legal implications of an annulment (as though the marriage had never happened), there will be no such thing as marital property to be divided. None of the parties involved can also file for alimony.
Maintenance orders, also known as separate maintenance, apply to spouses who may not want a divorce for various reasons. In a maintenance order, the court determines child custody and support, responsibility for marital debts, alimony, and rights to the marital home. Maintenance orders are temporary, and the spouses are still married, which means they cannot legally remarry.
Is Mississippi a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?
Mississippi allows both no-fault and fault divorces. If you and your spouse agree to the divorce due to irreconcilable differences, then you have a no-fault divorce, which is usually faster to resolve than fault divorces. However, you may still have disagreements with your soon-to-be ex-spouse regarding key issues such as child custody and property division in a no-fault divorce, which can complicate the process.
For a fault divorce, Mississippi law recognizes 12 grounds:
Habitual abuse of illegal drugs.
Habitual cruelty and domestic violence.
Willful and sustained abandonment for at least a year.
Intellectual disability or mental illness at the time of marriage.
Incurable mental illness.
Pregnancy of the wife with another man’s child at the time of the marriage, without the husband’s awareness of the fact.
A spouse’s fault in a divorce can affect the judge’s decision on the common issues that come up during a divorce. Habitual intoxication, drug use, and domestic violence typically affect child custody, while instances of adultery are usually taken into consideration when deciding if alimony should be awarded.
How to File for Divorce in Mississippi
The length and complexity of divorce in Mississippi depend on whether a divorce is contested or uncontested. For spouses pursuing an uncontested divorce, they must sign a marital settlement agreement in the presence of a notary. This document must address issues like alimony, property division, and child support.
1. Filling Out the Forms
Depending on the complexity of your divorce, you may need to fill out several forms, but the basic requirements include a Complaint for Divorce and a civil cover sheet form. For an uncontested divorce, you will also need a Property Settlement Agreement and a Judgment of Divorce based on irreconcilable differences. If there are minor children involved, a UCCJEA Affidavit will be required.
Other documents you will need to fill out include:
Request for Hearing.
Notice of Hearing.
Acknowledgment, Acceptance of Service and Appearance.
Financial Disclosure Statements.
For those with children: Child Support Guidelines and Child Support Computation Worksheet.
Keep in mind that most of these documents need to be signed in front of a notary. Once you have completed the forms, you can file them with the Chancery Court Clerk in the county where you or your spouse has lived for at least six months. If you cannot pay the filing fee, you can request to have it waived by filing a Pauper’s Affidavit and Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis.
2. Serving the Divorce Papers
Once you have filed the divorce papers, you need to notify your spouse about this decision. There are three ways this can be accomplished:
You can serve the divorce papers personally, but your spouse must sign the Acknowledgment Receipt. If your spouse refuses to cooperate, you can have a sheriff serve the notice.
You can mail the divorce papers, but your spouse must sign the return receipt and mail it back to you. If you do not know your spouse’s whereabouts, you can ask the court for permission to serve notice by publication. After receiving approval, you need to get in touch with a county newspaper and publish the notice of divorce for at least three weeks.
Spouses who have filed for a joint complaint for an uncontested divorce just need to ensure that both of them have copies of the documents to skip this step.
3. Financial Disclosures and Parenting Education (Situational)
Financial disclosures are usually required for contested divorces that involve asset and debt division issues.
Both spouses are required to disclose all their assets, accounts, and debts, and failure to do so can lead to fines or even imprisonment. The local county clerk will provide the specifics of what needs to be included in a financial disclosure.
A parenting education class may also be required by the court if there is a history of family violence in the case.
4. Finalizing the Divorce
Spouses in an uncontested divorce are generally no longer required to attend court hearings, provided that their settlement agreement is fair to all parties involved and covers all the required issues.
On the other hand, spouses in a contested divorce will have to settle their issues during trials. Multiple hearings may be involved in the resolution process, which can extend the length of divorce proceedings. The court may also issue a default judgment in the case of missing spouses or spouses who have failed to respond to the Complaint for Divorce.
How Property Is Divided in a Mississippi Divorce
Mississippi follows the “equitable distribution” principle regarding property and debt division during a divorce. This means that the division will not necessarily result in a 50-50 split, and the judge will allocate assets and liabilities in a way that is fair to both sides.
Judges may consider the following circumstances during the division process:
A significant portion of the assets were gained mostly through the effort of only one spouse.
There is a considerable gap between the spouses’ respective salaries or earning capacity.
One spouse shares greater marital fault, which leads to the divorce.
There is no efficient way to divide the only substantial asset, which is common in cases of family houses or businesses.
Other factors, such as possible tax consequences, child support, and alimony arrangements, will also be considered.
When it comes to marital property and separate property, the general rule in Mississippi courts is that only marital property shall be divided during a divorce. While state laws have yet to provide a specific definition of marital property, the courts usually classify assets and debts as marital property if they were acquired during the marriage.
On the other hand, separate property encompasses all assets that one spouse owned prior to the marriage, as well as inherited property. However, separate property may be considered marital property if both spouses contribute to its maintenance throughout the marriage, as is the case with family homes.
Mississippi Divorce FAQs
Going through a divorce can be an overwhelming process. This section sheds light on some of the most common concerns about divorce in Mississippi.
Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Mississippi
Mississippi Center for Legal Services
Mississippi Center for Legal Services offers free legal aid to low-income residents in 43 counties in central and southern Mississippi. It provides support on family issues like divorce, custody and visitation rights, domestic violence, and termination of parental rights. To determine if you are eligible for its services, you may get in touch with the office by calling 1-800-498-1804.
Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project
Founded in 1982, the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project is a nonprofit organization that focuses on handling domestic legal disputes. MVLP accommodates divorce cases based on irreconcilable differences, desertion, and imprisonment. It also assists with matters like name changes, guardianship, adoption, and birth certificate corrections. You can contact MVLP by calling 601-960-9577 or sending an email to email@example.com.
Catholic Charities of Jackson
The Catholic Charities of Jackson offers services that may be helpful for locals going through a divorce. Its Healing Hearts Family Counseling Clinic has been certified by the Department of Mental Health and administers Gottman Method Couples Therapy. The charity also helps displaced individuals and families due to domestic violence through its Rapid Re-Housing Domestic Violence Program.
Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence
Since opening its doors in 1977, the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence has grown to be one of the largest programs in the state that serves victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Its domestic violence shelter provides for the basic needs of residents, as well as access to legal resources and various training programs. One can reach their crisis line by dialing 228-762-8267.
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