New Fault Grounds Bill Passes in the Mississippi Senate

womanWhen filing for divorce in Mississippi, you can file based on fault or no-fault grounds. Existing fault grounds in Mississippi include adultery, criminal conviction with a sentence to jail time, bigamy, impotence, willful continuous desertion for a minimum of a year, habitual substance abuse, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, the spouses being related to each other by a certain degree of kinship, hospitalization for three years due to insanity, or a wife’s pregnancy by another man. Whoever alleges fault must prove it at court in trial, and a finding of fault can affect an alimony award.

There is one no-fault ground for divorce, which is irreconcilable differences. This just means that a couple isn’t able to get along, and there’s no chance they’ll get back together. Spouses trying to get a divorce on no-fault grounds need to agree to divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences. In Mississippi, if one of the spouses refuses to divorce on that basis, the spouse seeking a divorce must prove one of the fault grounds.

Recently, the Mississippi Senate passed a bill including a few new fault grounds for divorce. If the Mississippi House agrees, domestic violence and separation will be added to the list of fault grounds.

Another bill adding fault grounds was discussed in detail in 2016. Many people had concerns about the grounds. It would have added a 13th ground for divorce of one or more instances of domestic violence proven by clear and convincing evidence. That law included a definition of domestic violence as being an intentional act in which the perpetrator seriously injures the spouse or tries to cause serious injury to the spouse. Serious injuries were defined as those involving disfigurement, loss of function, extreme physical pain, or substantial risk of death.

The 14th ground would have been willful and continued separation when the parties don’t live together or intend to come back to the marriage for at least two years. Sen. Angela Turner, D-West Point didn’t like the 14th ground for separation, expressing that she thought people should stay married. She killed the bill.

This year, Senator Sally Doty presented the bill. This time around, domestic violence was added to the existing ground of cruel and inhuman treatment. The cruel and inhuman treatment ground was amended to say “cruel and inhuman treatment including spousal domestic abuse” The longer explanation defining what counts as domestic violence was stricken. The bill passed 51-0.

Willful and continued separation without living together and with the intent not to go back and resume the marriage for at least a year, and only when there are no children of the marriage who are less than 20 years old, became the 13th ground for a fault divorce.

When determining whether to award alimony, Mississippi judges have latitude to consider 12 different factors, including either spouse’s fault or misconduct. Alimony cannot be used as a sanction for any of the fault grounds, but the court is supposed to consider whether misconduct or fault has happened. The new bill, if passed by the House, would allow judges to consider domestic violence and separation when determining whether to award alimony.

For a free consultation, contact M. Devin Whitt, a qualified Mississippi divorce attorney practicing in Jackson. When divorcing, it is important to secure knowledgeable legal advice so that your divorce is valid, and you can protect your best interests in connection with matters such as alimony, child custody, and property division. Contact the Law Office of M. Devin Whitt for a free consultation at 601-607-5055.

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Personal Injury Awards and Property Division in Mississippi Divorce, January 7, 2015