Divorce in Mississippi is governed by a series of rules that dictate how the process for divorce must work, what the legal reasons are for getting a divorce, and what happens to property and children in the event of a divorce. It's important to understand that many of these rules apply when the court must make decisions on these issues for you. However, if you split your property out of court, for example, you don't necessarily need to apply the same standards or formulas that courts use, as long as you and your spouse can agree on a resolution.
Still, if you're considering a divorce in Mississippi, it's important to become familiar with Mississippi's divorce rules, so you can understand your legal rights before entering into a divorce settlement. If you have questions about your legal rights in divorce, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
Is There a Residency Requirement for Divorce in Mississippi?
Yes. At least one spouse must be a resident of the state for at least six months before filing for divorce.
A no-fault divorce may start in a county where either party resides, however, a divorce with fault grounds must take place where the "plaintiff" (the spouse asking for the divorce) resides if the defendant (the spouse responding to the request for the divorce) lives outside of the state or can’t be located.
Must We Be Separated First?
No. Legal separation is not a requirement for getting a divorce in Mississippi.
How Much Does It Cost?
When you get a divorce, there are two types of costs that you will have to pay: court costs and legal fees. Court costs will vary, depending on the county in which you file your divorce complaint. The cost of filing the forms for divorce is around $52. There may be additional costs for serving (delivering) copies of the divorce complaint to your spouse ($25 usually covers the formal delivery of divorce papers). If you don't know where your spouse is, then you must publish the divorce complaint, and the publication fee is around $65.
In addition to court costs, you will incur legal fees for your attorney and any experts you may need to hire (eg., tax experts, child custody experts, financial planners, and appraisers). The costs for legal and expert fees will vary depending on the experience levels of the professionals you hire and the complexity of your case.
How Long Will My Divorce Take?
After you file for a no-fault divorce, there is a 60-day waiting period before the divorce can be granted. There is no waiting period for a fault-based divorce. These time limits reflect the minimum time limits. If issues are being contested and must be litigated in front of a judge, the process of litigating those issues can drag on for months or in extreme cases, years.
Do I Need Grounds for Divorce in Mississippi?
"Grounds" are the reasons for your divorce, which you must identify when filling our your divorce forms. Although you must have some reason for divorce, that reason does not need to be an accusation that one spouse was at fault, or did anything to end the marriage.
Since Mississippi recognizes "no-fault" grounds for divorce, you can end your marriage on the basis of "irreconcilable differences," which is just a fancy way of saying you and your spouse can't get along anymore, the marriage is over, and there is no reasonable chance of getting back together.
For the full text of the law governing no-fault divorces in Mississippi, see Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-2
What Are the Fault Grounds for Divorce?
Mississippi recognizes several fault grounds, including:
- alcohol or drug abuse
- spouse is pregnant by someone other than her spouse
- cruel and inhuman treatment of the other spouse
- incapacity at the time of marriage
- a familial relationship between the spouses, and
- incurable insanity.
For a complete list of the fault grounds in Mississippi, see Miss. Code Ann. § 93-5-1.
How Is Marital Property Handled in Divorce in Mississippi?
Mississippi is an equitable distribution state, which means courts will divide property and assets in an equitable (fair) fashion - not necessarily equal. One thing that is different from many states is that under Mississippi law, spouses retain property for which they have title. Otherwise, the property will be divided based on a number of factors used to determine what is fair and equitable, such as the length of the marriage and the contributions of each spouse during the marriage.
How Are Retirement Assets Divided?
Retirement plans are property and can also be divided equitably. Sometimes, however, it's not possible to divide the plan or split up the plan assets at the time of the divorce proceedings because of limitations on when plans can be cashed out and when they vest. In such cases, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) may be required to ensure both parties get their fair share at the time when the plans mature or become payable.
QDROs are highly-specialized areas of family law. If you need one, you should definitely contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
What Are the Child Support Guidelines in Mississippi?
Child support in Mississippi is determined using the "Income Shares" model. This is a four-part model, which is used in many states and involves:
- adding up both parents' incomes
- using the total income figure to determine the appropriate percentage of child support payments based on a table of figures
- adding to that number any additional costs specific to family/child costs for medical care or daycare, and
- dividing the total number by a percentage of the income each parent makes.
Child support is paid until the child is emancipated. Automatic emancipation occurs when the child turns 21, gets married, enlists in the military on a full-time basis, or is convicted of a felony and sent to prison for at least two years.
Mississippi also allows courts to order emancipation, which can result in the reduction or termination of child support. Causes for this include:
- the child drops out of school after the age of 18
- the child voluntarily moves out, gets a job, and does not continue his or her education before becoming 21, and
- the child cohabitates with another person without the approval of the parent paying support.
What about Alimony?
If spouses can't agree on permanent alimony (also called "spousal support"), a judge will decide the appropriate amount and duration of alimony based on the following:
- the income, expenses, and ages of both spouses
- the health, medical condition, and financial need of the supported spouse
- the standard of living during the marriage
- the property settlement
- custody arrangements, and
- any fault or misconduct by either spouse.
Alimony may be permanent or temporary.
Can I Get Temporary Support during the Divorce?
Mississippi courts may grant temporary alimony during divorce proceedings. This will be based upon a petition (request) to the court by the spouse seeking support and will be awarded if the court determines that there is a financial need for such payments.
For a complete description of alimony in Mississippi, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Mississippi.
Can We Reach a Marital Settlement Agreement out of Court?
Yes. It will save time and money to agree on as many issues as possible. Your agreements can be incorporated into a written document called a "marital settlement agreement," which you will present to the court. The court will then simply have to review, approve, and finalize your agreement.
What Happens If We Can't Agree on Settlement Terms?
Often, divorcing couples are unable to communicate well enough to settle all issues outside of court. If you find yourself in this position, there are no legal provisions for mediation in Mississippi. You will need to hire a mediator outside of court if you are committed to resolving issues without litigation. The third-party mediator will assist you in coming to an agreement with your spouse, but will not force you to agree or order you to do anything. If you are not able to resolve your differences through mediation, then your case will go to court.
Getting Legal Help
Divorce is stressful, but hiring an attorney can help relieve some of the burden. An experienced divorce attorney can help make sure you are legally protected and can interface with your spouse's attorney, so that your emotions won't interfere with getting the best divorce settlement possible.