Divorce is a painful and emotional process to begin with, but the legal complexities involved in actually completing a divorce can be worse than anything else. This is especially true in Mississippi, where many feel that antiquated divorce laws are keeping spouses trapped in toxic marriages without a way out. In fact, the state’s divorce laws have hardly changed in the past 100 years, and everybody can agree that society and the needs of American citizens have changed dramatically in the last century.
An Example of the Challenges
Kent Dear is a 73-year-old man from Jackson, Mississippi who has been separated from his wife since June 2007. Over the last 10 years, he has been through three judges and spent $80,000 in expenses and lawyer’s fees trying to obtain a formal divorce. Since Dear and his wife have not been able to agree on financial terms, and a court has not agreed to take their case, Dear has been in limbo for an entire decade of his life. As he explained to The Clarion Ledger, “We have no kids. There’s no real property involved or anything… The point is, after nearly 10 years of separation, we’re still not divorced. Ten years. I’m 73 years old… I want to get on with my life.
Mississippi’s Antiquated System
The current divorce laws in Mississippi have been criticized for trapping spouses and children in abusive situations and financial limbo. Furthermore, the process is so complex and expensive that many lower income families simply can’t afford to go through it. Mississippi is just one of two states that still does not maintain a unilateral “no fault” divorce provision, and this allows one spouse to hold up a divorce for years.
Despite efforts of lawmakers and religious leaders to resist divorce reform under the auspices of upholding the institution and sanctity of marriage, Mississippi’s divorce rate is the seventh highest in the nation. Two such reforms that lawmakers recently shot down would have allowed domestic abuse and lengthy separation as two legitimate grounds for divorce. Currently, a judge will grant a divorce if one spouse can prove adultery, habitual drug use, and habitual inhuman treatment, but proving such things is very difficult and expensive, once again putting lower income families at a disadvantage.
Though there is no solution in the immediate future, senators like Sally Doty continue to advocate for reform by introducing bills to support victims of domestic abuse and give unhappy marriages a way to finally end and move on.