Sipping the Syrup Too Much: Habitual Drunkenness and Divorce in Mississippi

Here in Mississippi, there is nothing like watching a good football game and drinking a cold beer with friends and family. Recreational drinking–and football of course–is a stapled pastime in our country. But for some, the pastime of alcohol consumption can become a serious problem. Just like a drug addiction, alcohol abuse can have a substantial negative impact on personal relationships, including marriages. In Mississippi, habitual drunkenness is one of twelve fault-based grounds for divorce. MS § 93-5-1 (2014).

Habitual drunkenness is a rarely used ground for divorce, and there is limited case law on what exactly constitutes “habitual drunkenness.” Nevertheless, to succeed on a habitual drunkenness claim, a spouse must “prove that the defendant was habitually, or frequently, drunk, that the drinking adversely affected the marriage, and the habit continued at the divorce trial.” BELL, BELL ON MISSISSIPPI FAMILY LAW § 4.02[6](2010) (analogizing habitual drunkenness grounds to habitual drug use grounds); see Ladner v. Ladner, 436 So. 2d 1366, 1375 (Miss. 1983) (daily use over four years was sufficient frequency to show abuse), and Smithson v. Smithson, 74 So. 149, 151 (Miss. 1917) (use must be ongoing at time of trial)).

Few Mississippi cases explain precisely the meaning of what constitutes frequent “abuse” under the ground of habitual drunkenness. “Abuse” may be defined as “[a] departure from legal or reasonable use; misuse.” BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY (9th ed. 2009). And the Mississippi Supreme Court has given some useful guidance on the issue. For example, in one case, “[d]ivorce was granted based on proof that a husband’s habit of drinking a case of beer each night caused him to become abusive, threatening, and critical.” Sproles v. Sproles, 782 So. 2d 742, 745 (Miss. 2001). Conversely, a husband’s consumption of “four or five beers a night,” without evidence of an impact on the marriage or his work did not support a habitual drunkenness claim. Culver v. Culver, 383 So. 2d 817, 817-18 (Miss. 1980). Further, as one commentator has explained, “Remotely related incidents will not stand the test of habitual drunkenness to prove that the defendant is either a drunkard or one subjected to the characteristics of habitual drunkenness.” N. SHELTON HAND, MISSISSIPPI DIVORCE, ALIMONY, AND CHILD CUSTODY § 4:10 (2013) (citing Kincaid v. Kincaid, 43 So. 2d 108 (Miss. 1949)).

Ultimately, there are three elements to be proven to succeed on a habitual drunkenness claim: (1) a spouse’s alcohol abuse must be both habitual and frequent, (2) it must negatively affect the marriage, and (3) the habit must exist at the time of filing a divorce complaint for habitual drunkenness. It is clear that recreational or occasional drinking is insufficient to prove habitual drunkenness, and a spouse’s sobriety at the time of the complaint for divorce on grounds of habitual drunkenness will likely invalidate such a claim.

Alcohol abuse plagues many people and can substantially disrupt marriages to a point of non-repair. A spouse’s alcohol abuse is not something to take lightly. It is imperative that persons who abuse alcohol get proper treatment to help them overcome their addiction. And it is equally important for innocent spouses to consider divorce in instances where a spouse’s alcohol abuse places a heavy burden on the marriage to a point of irreconciliation.

If you or a friend is considering divorce based upon a spouse’s habitual drunkenness, it is important that you consult an experienced divorce attorney. As an experienced divorce and family law attorney, I can help you better understand your options. If you are in need of professional assistance and representation in a divorce or any other family matter, please contact the Law Office of M. Devin Whitt for a free consultation at (601) 607-5055.