Articles Posted in Divorce

A court determining property division and alimony is required to look at certain factors. What are known as the Ferguson factors related to property division include how much each party substantially contributed to accumulating property, the degree to which each spouse has disposed of marital assets, the market value of the assets, the value of the assets minus equitable factors, tax and other economic consequences, the extent to which property division can be used to eliminate sources of friction, the needs of the parties to achieve financial security, and any other factors that should be considered to make an equitable division.

The Armstrong factors to be considered in connection with an alimony award are the spouses’ income and expenses, the parties’ earning ability, the parties’ needs, the parties’ obligations and assets, how long the marriage was, the presence of minors, the parties’ age, their standard of living during the marriage and when support was being determined, tax consequences, spousal fault or misconduct, the waste of assets, and any other factor considered just and equitable to set alimony.

In a recent appeal, a woman sued for divorce, and the couple agreed that it was on the basis of irreconcilable differences. A chancellor had to decide issues of alimony, equitable distribution, and attorneys’ fees. A judgment of divorce was executed, in which the divorce was granted and the marital assets were divided. The wife was awarded $1,360 on a monthly basis from the husband’s retirement account, with this payment to be made for 12 years. The wife appealed on the grounds that no specific findings were made and that the chancellor had failed to make specific findings about alimony.

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In a recent Mississippi appellate case, a wife filed for divorce on the fault-based grounds of adultery and habitual inhuman treatment. The couple married in 2004 and then separated in 2011. They had no children.

The husband owned a bail bonding business, and the wife worked as an admissions registrar. She also worked as an office manager at her husband’s bail bonding business. She owned a home in Vicksburg when the couple married. It had two mortgages and was worth $100,000. The husband also owned a home before and during the marriage, which was located in Vicksburg, owned without a mortgage, and worth $46,120. The couple lived at the wife’s property, and she quitclaimed her interest in that property to her husband.

The couple wanted to get money to build their marital home, so they refinanced what had been the wife’s property, and the husband paid off the second mortgage. They sold it for $100,000 and got a $50,000 loan on the other property, and with those proceeds they built their marital home. That home was valued at $380,000 and had a mortgage balance of $180,000. The husband held title to the property, but it was the marital residence until the couple decided to divorce. The couple also built a house nearby that was valued at $226,300. They paid in full for the home, and the husband took title. They also bought different cars and had marital debt of $279,749.61 when they decided to divorce.

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We have all heard the term “consenting adults.”  Well, Mississippi law requires such consent before a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences (also known as a “no-fault” or “agreed divorce”) will be granted.  A divorce will not granted simply because he or she no longer desires to be married to the other person. Without a fault-based ground for divorce, both parties must be in agreement and give consent to an irreconcilable differences (or “no fault”) divorce.  Consent is accepted by the court in one of two ways: (1) a written agreement defining all child custody, child support, child visitation, and division of marital assets and marital debts; or (2) both parties must give consent to allow the court to decide these issues for them if they cannot agree. Either way, consent is required by both parties for an irreconcilable divorce to be valid.

If either party refuses to accept the terms demanded by the other party and refuses to allow the court to choose for them, the only other option is to sue for divorce.  This involves alleging a fault-based ground on the other party of which this party may admit or challenge these allegations of fault.  If both parties can agree to and consent to wanting the divorce, an irreconcilable differences divorce may be your best bet.

Mississippi Code Section 93-5-2 (3) pertains to consent agreements for irreconcilable differences divorces and provides the following:

(3) If the parties are unable to agree upon adequate and sufficient provisions for the custody and maintenance of any children of that marriage or any property rights between them, they may consent to a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences and permit the court to decide the issues upon which they cannot agree. Such consent must be in writing, signed by both parties personally, must state that the parties voluntarily consent to permit the court to decide such issues, which shall be specifically set forth in such consent, and that the parties understand that the decision of the court shall be a binding and lawful judgment. Such consent may not be withdrawn by a party without leave of the court after the court has commenced any proceeding, including the hearing of any motion or other matter pertaining thereto…Mississippi Code Section 93-5-2 (3)

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So you both agree that you want to be divorced and you want to be divorced NOW! If no one is at fault for the divorce, you may wish to file what is known as an irreconcilable differences divorce.

Irreconcilable Differences, also known as an “ID” or “no fault” divorce can be less stressful, less costly, and faster than a fault based divorce. The parties in an ID divorce must agree to the terms as set out in a property settlement agreement outlining the division of their debts and assets and a custody agreement if there are children involved.

But unfortunately, if you are wanting a divorce granted in the state of Mississippi, you will have to ride it out for at least sixty (60) days according to Miss. Code section 93-5-2 (4) which states: Divorce on ground of irreconcilable differences: Complaints for divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences must have been on file for sixty (60) days before the Judgment is entered.

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Do not “sit” on your right to enforce or collect on a divorce judgment. Let me repeat that: DO NOT wait too long to enforce a divorce judgment or any incorporated alimony, property settlement, or child support judgment. I give this counsel to all prospective clients that contact me asking whether they should bring their ex-spouse back to court to enforce alimony, property settlement, and/or child support agreements/provisions associated with a divorce judgment (collectively “divorce judgment”). If a person does not timely seek to enforce a divorce judgment, the law can and will bar enforcement of that judgment by way of the statute of limitations.In assessing any case, one of the very first things an attorney does is determines whether the statute of limitations has ran on a client’s claim. The statute of limitations sets a particular time period for claims and causes of action to be filed so as to ensure that such claims are “ripe” for judicial determination. If a person files a claim or seeks to enforce a judgment outside the statute of limitations–after the legally prescribed time to bring the claim has ran or expired–then the person’s otherwise viable claim will be barred by the statute of limitations because it is considered untimely, or “stale.” Despite very few narrow exceptions where the doctrine of laches or equitable estoppel applies, if the statute of limitations has expired on a given claim or right to enforce, then recovery or relief cannot be had on such a claim. See e.g., Nicholas v. Nicholas, 841 So. 2d 1208, 1212-13 (Miss. Ct. App. 2003). This concept equally applies to divorce judgments, including alimony, property settlement, and child support provisions/judgments included in, or attached to, a final judgment of divorce.
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One of the most frequently asked questions I have received in my years of divorce practice is “how much is this divorce going to cost me?” This is a fair question, but a tough one to answer. In Mississippi, divorce is neither easy nor free. While I often find myself going to great lengths to save my client’s time and money in divorce cases, the financial impact of divorce is always present. Because divorces can cause a serious financial burden for some individuals, divorce costs should be a key factor when considering whether to divorce and the attorney you use. In fact, one of the most important divorce costs in any divorce case in Mississippi will be attorney’s fees. One would generally think that each party to a divorce is responsible for paying his or her respective attorney out of their own pocket. But think again, because courts are able to award one spouse or the other reasonable attorney’s fees in certain cases.
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Adultery is one of the most utilized grounds for divorce. As unfortunate as it may sound, many spouses commit adultery. There are countless psycho-social studies and surveys aimed at figuring out “why” spouses engage in adulterous activity. But, in the divorce context in Mississippi, why a spouse commits adultery is not really all that important. When considering divorce on grounds of adultery in Mississippi, a person should know (1) the definition of “adultery” and (2) how to prove it.

Defining Adultery

Most people associate “cheating” with adultery. But, “cheating” is not necessarily always “adultery,” because “cheating” is subject to varying interpretations. To some, “cheating” may merely involve intimate conversation with, or thoughts about, another person, without any physical contact; while others think only physical, sexual contact with another person qualifies as “cheating.” Mississippi law adopts the latter in its definition of “adultery.” Mississippi law defines adultery as the “voluntary sexual intercourse on the part of either spouse with a person other than his or her own spouse.” Owen v. Gerity, 422 So. 2d 284, 287 (Miss. 1982) (emphasis added). Also, it does not matter how frequent, or infrequent, a spouse commits adultery. As the Mississippi Supreme Court has explained, “a one night stand does not make [] sexual misconduct any less adulterous.” Davis v. Davis, 832 So. 2d 492, 496 (Miss. 2002). So, adultery involves sexual intercourse with a third-person, and one instance of such conduct is enough to be characterized as adultery in Mississippi.
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When I talk with clients about divorce, I have heard many say “I understand there is no alimony in Mississippi.” Many of these people show up in my office seeking help with a divorce, and unfortunately, they are mistaken because alimony is still alive and well in Mississippi. In this regards, one of the most stressful issues that many of my clients face is the potential of having to pay alimony to their spouse in the event of a divorce. Many clients simply do not understand why they have to pay money to support a person to which they are no longer married. As a result, alimony is often both a confusing and frustrating issue in many divorce cases.

Alimony, also known as spousal support, has been a concept embraced by Mississippi law since 1848. DEBORAH BELL, BELL ON MISSISSIPPI FAMILY LAW § 9.01[5] (2d ed. 2011). The purpose of alimony is to provide support for a financially-dependent spouse, albeit the divorcing wife or husband. Mississippi law maintains a strong public policy in favor of providing financial support to divorcing spouses who would otherwise be at risk of becoming destitute–or those who are seriously at risk of not having the financial means to provide for basic living necessities. So, to be clear, the purpose of alimony is not to provide financial support to a divorcing spouse so that the spouse may maintain a comparable standard of living that existed during the marriage, but to provide monetary support to avoid placing persons in poverty following a divorce. That being said, there are four types of alimony recognized in Mississippi: (1) permanent alimony, (2) lump sum or “settlement” alimony, (3) rehabilitative alimony, and (4) reimbursement alimony. See BELL ON MISSISSIPPI FAMILY LAW § 9.02. The most prominent form of alimony is permanent alimony.
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I routinely deal with cases involving a spouse who wants a divorce because he or she learned that the other spouse cheated or committed some other type of marital misconduct. Often times, when a client hires me to help with a fault-based divorce, especially where the ground for divorce is adultery, one of the first questions I ask my client is: Did you forgive your spouse? A “yes” to this question can certainly complicate an otherwise clear-cut divorce. In Mississippi, forgiving–or condoning–a spouse’s past marital transgressions may legally bar a complaining-spouse’s right to a divorce. As a result, condonation is one of most often used defenses to fault-based divorce in Mississippi.Condonation occurs when a spouse voluntarily forgives the other spouse for committing some sort of marital misconduct. Where a spouse forgives the other’s misconduct, there is an unspoken promise that such misconduct will not recur. So even if the complaining-spouse condones or grants forgiveness for the other spouse’s misconduct, such forgiveness is conditioned on the offending-spouse’s continued good behavior. For example, if a spouse forgives the other for committing adultery, then the other spouse either continues the extramarital affair or commits adultery again, then the prior condonation or forgiveness for the first instance of adultery would likely be invalid. More so, it is important to note that condonation is most often used as a defense against divorce based on grounds of adultery whereby the offending-spouse claims that the complaining-spouse forgave him or her for an extramarital affair. However, the condonation defense is not limited to just adultery. For example, the Mississippi Court of Appeals in Smith held that the defendant’s wife did not condone his excessive gambling habit simply by accompanying him to the casino where he regularly gambled. Smith v. Smith, 90 So. 3d 1259, 1266 (Miss. Ct. App. 2011).
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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.
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