MISSISSIPPI’S DIVORCE RATE AND THE CURRENT STATUTORY SCHEME
August 29, 2011 § 3 Comments
The Clarion Ledger reported on August 25, 2011, that Mississippi’s divorce rates are among the highest in the nation. You can read the article here. The findings come from the Census Bureau’s “Marital Events of Americans: 2009,” which was released this week. The article did not explain why the conclusions are based on data two years old.
Key points of the report:
- Mississippi’s divorce rates for men and women are among the highest in the nation, while its marriage rates rank in the bottom half.
- Mississippi had the sixth highest divorce rate among women and the 11th highest for men.
- Even in the South, which recorded the highest divorce rates (the Northeast had the lowest), Mississippi’s numbers exceeded at least seven other Southern states’.
- Calculating “marital events” per 1,000 men or women ages 15 and older, the rates for Mississippi were 12.5 for women, compared to 9.7 for the nation; and 11.1 for men, also above the national average of 9.2.
- The marriage rate for Mississippi women was slightly less than the national average: 17.3, compared to 17.6, for a No. 32 ranking.
- The marriage rate for Mississippi men edged out the national average: 19.3, compared to 19.1, but was only the 29th highest.
- Although the South had the second-highest marriage rates of any region, Mississippi’s numbers were some of the lowest among its neighbors.
- The study explains the variations in rates between men and women this way: Men remarry more than women do, so their marriage rates are higher.
- Women tend to live longer than men and tend to marry older men, so widowhood rates are higher for them than rates men.
No doubt the economy is exacerbating these numbers. Anyone who has done much domestic legal work can tell you that financial issues play a predominant role in marital dissolutions.
It’s not easy to get a divorce in Mississippi unless both parties agree on how to settle every issue, including the knotty issues of custody, support, division of property and alimony. Our current system gives rise to and even encourages a strategy in which one party holds the divorce hostage until the other comes to terms, a phenomenon that some lawyers refer to as “divorce blackmail” or “economic blackmail.” I have heard for years that there are legislators who have blocked reform of our archaic divorce statutes because they don’t want divorce to be “too easy.” This data is evidence that the existing statutory constraints on divorce have been singularly ineffective in accomplishing that goal.
I think it’s time for us to consider a change in our statutory scheme for divorce. Deborah Bell’s suggestion is that we amend our statutes to provide that when parties have lived separate and apart for a year or more either may obtain a divorce on the ground of irreconcilable differences, with some temporary relief. That seems sensible to me. It would avoid precipitous and impetuous actions, and would recognize that there is no sense in perpetuating dead relationships. It would also reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the economic coercion that so often intrudes into the divorce process under our current law.