Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in Mississippi. While that might seem overwhelming, it doesn't have to be all that difficult, particularly if you and your soon-to-be ex can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a Mississippi divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
You may get a divorce in Mississippi as long as either you or your spouse has been a resident in the state for at least six months immediately before you file your initial divorce papers. Both of you will be considered state residents if you're living together (or were, just before you separated) while one of you is stationed in Mississippi as a member of the U.S. military. (Miss. Code § 93-5-5(a) (2022).)
As an aside, the court will toss out your divorce case if you moved to Mississippi solely for the purpose of filing for divorce in the state. (Miss. Code § 93-5-5(b) (2022).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in Mississippi. Although the state allows divorce based on a spouse's misconduct (like adultery, habitual drunkenness, or habitual cruel and inhuman treatment), pursuing a fault-based divorce requires proving the misconduct happened—which could involve a lot of time, money, and anxiety.
The only "no-fault" ground for divorce in Mississippi is "irreconcilable differences," which basically means that you and your spouse can no longer get along, and there's no reasonable prospect of that changing.
Mississippi places some requirements on getting a divorce based on irreconcilable differences. Both of the following must be true:
(Miss. Code § 93-5-2 (2022).)
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in Mississippi based on irreconcilable differences, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional, contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse must agree on all the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Once you've reached an agreement on all of those issues, you should put down all the details in a written marital settlement agreement (also called a "property settlement agreement" in Mississippi, even when it covers other issues). Mississippi requires that both spouses sign the agreement in the presence of a notary. The agreement may then become a part of your divorce judgment.
If there are any issues you can't agree on, your case will proceed as a contested divorce. Many couples who start out with contested divorces eventually reach a settlement (usually with the help of their lawyers) before they have to go to trial—but it can take a long time (and legal fees) to get there. So if you can start out with a settlement agreement that's fair to both you and your spouse, that's almost always the best way to proceed.
When you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage, but it will take time and attention to detail to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in Mississippi.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
Without an agreement, you'll need to file for a traditional, contested divorce. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for folks who are handling their own divorce.
First, you need to find the right forms for getting a divorce in Mississippi. On the website for the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission (MSATJC), under "Family and Children Law," you can download an instruction sheet and some forms. You can also follow an interactive interview that will help you complete the forms for some simple uncontested divorces.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to create forms through the interactive interview if you have children under age 21 or certain types of property. If that's your situation, you might be able to get the necessary forms by contacting the Chancery Court clerk's office in the county where you're filing for divorce (more on that below). You can also purchase forms online or use a private online divorce service that will provide you with the proper, completed forms.
The main documents for an uncontested divorce include:
If you have minor children, you'll need additional forms, including a "UCCJEA Affidavit."
With a contested divorce, you'll complete a Complaint and cover sheet. When you're completing the forms, the spouse who starts the divorce process is the "plaintiff," and the other spouse is the "defendant."
For divorces based on irreconcilable differences, you'll file your divorce papers with the Chancery Court Clerk in the Mississippi county where either you or your spouse lives. For fault-based divorce, you'll file in the county where your spouse lives or, if your spouse lives out of state or can't be found, where you live. (Miss. Code § 93-5-11 (2022).)
Generally, you'll bring your paperwork in person for filing. But if you're interested electronic filing, check with the court clerk's office to see if that service is available in the county.
Be aware that there are court fees for filing legal papers. As of 2022, the filing fee for divorce in Mississippi was $148 for an uncontested divorce and $158 for a contested one. But it's always subject to change, so check with the court clerk to confirm the current amount. If you can't afford to pay the fee, you can request a waiver by filing a "Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis" and a "Pauper's Affidavit." (Miss. Code § 11-53-17 (2022).) You should be able to get these forms from the court clerk's office, or you can find them on the MSATJC Legal Forms page (under "Civil Filing Fee Waived").
When you've filed a joint complaint for an uncontested divorce, you can simply make sure that both of you have copies of the documents. You won't need to serve your spouse with the complaint and other divorce papers, since both of you already saw and signed the documents.
Otherwise, however, you'll need to serve your spouse with the divorce papers by one of the following methods:
(Miss. Rules Civ. Proc. § 4(c) (2022).)
If there's a problem finding your spouse for service, check with the court clerk about how to request an alternative method of service, such as publication in a newspaper. (However, as explained above, you won't be able to get a divorce based on irreconcilable differences if your spouse wasn't personally served.)
It's important to remember that, unless you've filed a joint complaint, the court may dismiss your divorce case if you don't serve your spouse within 120 days after you filed the complaint, and there wasn't a good reason for that delay. (Miss. Rules Civ. Proc. § 4(h) (2022).)
Pay attention to the next steps that might be needed to move your divorce case along.
Ordinarily, a defendant spouse has 30 days to respond to the complaint. (Miss. Rules Civ. Proc. § 12 (a) (2022).) The defendant can reply with an "Answer" that agrees with or disputes anything stated or request in the complaint. Your spouse could also file a "Counter-claim," which might include requests for "relief" like custody or alimony.
However, there's no need for an answer when you and your spouse have filed a joint complaint for an uncontested divorce.
In any divorce involving financial issues, including division of property, you're obligated to file a financial disclosure with the court. This document requires you to provide a great deal of information about your income and assets. Check with your local court clerk for details.
It's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can, because it's important that you be as thorough as possible in completing this form. It's imperative that you be honest, because a spouse who fails to disclose all accounts, debts, or assets could face penalties, such as fines and possible jail time.
If a judge believes that it's appropriate in your particular case (when there has been family violence), the judge may order attendance at a parenting education class. (Miss. Code § 93-5-24 (2022).).
After you've filed for a divorce based on irreconcilable differences, Mississippi has a 60-day waiting period before you can get your final divorce. (Miss. Code § 93-5-2(4) (2022).)
If your divorce is uncontested, you generally won't have to attend a court hearing. Once the waiting period has expired, a judge will review your settlement agreement and other paperwork. As long as the agreement is "adequate and sufficient"—meaning that it's fair to both spouses, covers all of the required issues, and is in the best interests of any minor children—the judge will grant your divorce and make the settlement agreement part of the divorce judgment. (Miss. Code § 93-5-2(2) (2022).)
If your case is contested, and you aren't able to settle all your issues at some point during the legal process, you'll have a trial. After hearing testimony and receiving other evidence, a judge will make a decision on those issues that remain unresolved. This is by far the longest and costliest route to getting a divorce judgment, and can take up to a year or more.