Antenuptial Knowledge of a Condition Existing Prior to Marriage May Bar Divorce in Mississippi

In terms of divorce defenses under Mississippi law, “antenuptial knowledge” may simply be defined as a complaining-spouse’s (the spouse filing for divorce) pre-marital knowledge of the defendant-spouse’s pre-existing bad habits, condition, or other marital impediment that now is alleged to present a cause for divorce. For a defendant-spouse to rely on the defense of antenuptial knowledge, there must be evidence that the complaining-spouse was fully aware of the defendant’s alleged pre-marital conduct before entering into the marriage, or evidence showing that the complaining-spouse had such reliable information that a reasonable person would have known about the defendant’s particular pre-marital conduct, which is the alleged ground for divorce. See N. SHELTON HAND, MISSISSIPPI DIVORCE, ALIMONY, AND CHILD CUSTODY § 5:13 (2014). Thus, actual or constructive antenuptial knowledge of a defendant-spouse’s impediment giving rise to the divorce is sufficient to establish a valid defense against the divorce in Mississippi.

Since 1959, there seems to be no significant case addressing the antenuptial knowledge defense by the Mississippi Supreme Court or Court of Appeals. The most notable case where the Mississippi Supreme Court directly and substantively addressed the antenuptial knowledge defense to divorce was in Kincaid v. Kincaid. In that case, the wife filed for divorce asserting that her husband was a habitual drunkard. Kincaid v. Kincaid, 42 So. 2d 108, 109 (Miss. 1949); see MS § 93-5-1 (5) (2014). Seeking to prevent the divorce, the husband in the case claimed that the wife knew or should have known of his habitual drunkenness before the marriage and therefore should not be able to complain about it now. Accordingly, the Mississippi Supreme Court explained that the crucial issue in the case was whether the husband sufficiently established that the wife knew or had good reason to know of the husband’s habitual drunkenness at the time of, or before, the marriage. Id. In assessing Mississippi law, as one commentator has stated, the Kincaid court “suggested that premarital knowledge of [] conditions such as habitual drunkenness, drug use, imprisonment or impotency may bar divorce.” DEBORAH BELL, BELL ON MISSISSIPPI FAMILY LAW § 4.03[1] (2d. ed. 2011). Ultimately, the Kincaid court held that there was not sufficient evidence to establish the wife’s antenuptial knowledge of the husband’s habitual drunkenness in order to bar a divorce because “[a]t the most, she knew only that he was an occasional and moderate social drinker [, not] an habitual drunkard before marriage . . . .” Id. at 109-110.

In another case, a husband filed for divorce claiming that his wife was pregnant by another man at the time of marriage. Burdine v. Burdine, 112 So. 2d 522, 522 (Miss. 1959). The wife answered the divorce complaint by claiming the husband knew or should have known that she was pregnant before the marriage, and regardless of whether the child belonged to another man, the husband could not obtain a divorce under Mississippi law on such grounds. Id. Interpreting the old Mississippi Code and recognizing the strong public policy favoring marriage over divorce, the court held that denying the husband’s right to a divorce under the undisputed circumstances that he knew his wife was pregnant at the time of the marriage “best serve[d] the interest of society.” Id.; see MS § 93-5-1 (10) (2014). Though it did not specifically identify or address antenuptial knowledge per se, the Burdine court used the same basic reasoning and held that the husband’s actual or constructive pre-marital knowledge of his wife’s pregnancy was sufficient to bar a divorce.

In the end, the antenuptial knowledge defense relies heavily on specific facts and circumstances. And to sum up, if a spouse knows or should know of the other spouse’s pre-marital impediment, condition or bad habit, he or she may be barred from obtaining a divorce in Mississippi when faced with an antenuptial knowledge defense. If you are a defendant in a divorce case, it is imperative that you seek professional assistance from an experienced Mississippi divorce attorney. If you or a friend should need professional assistance regarding a divorce or any other family matter, please contact the Law Office of M. Devin Whitt for a free consultation at (601) 607-5055.