How should I prepare if I intend to file for divorce in the near future?
Advocates for families and, specifically, victims of domestic violence are making their opinions heard in a Mississippi divorce case that will soon be decided by the state Supreme Court. Opponents of the status quo argue that Mississippi’s laws are antiquated and in desperate need of an overhaul. Of particular interest is the state’s lack of a unilateral no-fault divorce option, something that critics say traps spouses in bad relationships for years longer than necessary, holding them hostage to the whims of controlling and potentially abusive partners.
Though the fight over the state’s outdated divorce law has been brewing for some time, it received renewed focus after a recent ruling by Harrison County Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel earlier this summer. That case involved what should have been a simple divorce for “irreconcilable differences”. The problem was that the husband in the case has refused to provide his consent to the divorce, leaving the case stalled indefinitely. That’s because current Mississippi law requires the mutual consent of both parties before a divorce on the basis of irreconcilable differences can legally proceed.
In the current case, the wife filed for divorce back in 2013 and the dispute has languished ever since. A judge in Harrison County, MS got tired of the 4+ year wait and issued a ruling saying that the state’s mutual consent requirement was unconstitutional. According to the judge, the law is most often used as a bludgeon by one party against the other rather than as an instrument of justice. The husband still refuses to relent and decided to appeal the ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
The judge from Harrison County gets credit for recognizing something that those who have experienced divorce in Mississippi have long known: the process is unfair, unjust and leaves one party totally at the mercy of the one intent on slowing things down. Though the current case does not involve accusations of domestic violence, many critics say that is the lens through which the law should be viewed. Those stuck in violent relationships can be trapped, waiting years for their spouse to agree to divorce. Their children become pawns in the game and often the only way to get the divorce is to relent and give the abuser whatever he or she wants to secure their consent to the divorce.
Thankfully, the laws in Mississippi have begun to change, albeit slowly. Earlier this year, in March, the state legislature finally passed a law they had considered several times before. The law said that judges can now grant divorce to a party for spousal domestic abuse based solely on the testimony of the victim. Previously, the law had been interpreted to require some kind of corroborating testimony, something that is often hard to come by in cases of domestic violence.
Though the change has given victims of violence one possible avenue of escape, critics say much more remains to be done. Rather than trapping families in violent or unhappy relationships, the law should be written to facilitate a harmonious ending. Unnecessarily drawing things out or increasing tension serves no one, except the abuser who gets to exert control a little while longer. Currently, Mississippi remains one of only two states (South Dakota is the other) without unilateral no-fault divorce. Whether the Supreme Court of Mississippi agrees that the current laws are unconstitutional remains to be seen, but many families in the state will be eagerly watching and waiting.
The hope is that advocates for change are able to overcome objections from religious leaders and pass reform that helps families move forward quickly and efficiently. Those who are eager to keep the laws as they are insist that changes will only further destabilize families, leading to increased divorce rates. The numbers, however, tell a different story. Even with such outdated laws, Mississippi currently has one of the highest rates of divorce in the country. It stands to reason that a bit of relaxation could actually reverse the trend, freeing up people who feel trapped and giving couples more options to choose what is right for their family.
If you find yourself facing a complicated family law matter, then you need the help of experienced family-law attorneys in Charlotte, North Carolina who can help guide you through the often confusing process of divorce. Please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.
The family law practice group at Arnold & Smith, PLLC includes two Board-Certified Family Law specialists and several attorneys with many years of family law experience that are committed to providing a powerful voice to individuals facing the often-tumultuous issues in this area of law. The range of issues our family law clients may be facing include pre- and post-nuptial agreements; separation agreements; post-separation support; child support (both temporary and permanent); absolute divorce; divorce from bed and board; military divorce; equitable distribution of assets; child custody (both temporary and permanent); retirement benefits and divorce; alimony and spousal support; adoption; and emancipation. Because this area of the law is usually emotionally charged and complicated, the family law attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC act with the utmost dedication to ensure that each client understands his or her options, and then act to achieve the best result possible for that client’s particular situation.
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