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.

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§ 3 Responses to MISSISSIPPI’S DIVORCE RATE AND THE CURRENT STATUTORY SCHEME

  • Joel says:

    I couldn’t disagree with the last paragraph anymore than I do. In fact the whole article is not one bit surprising. But all of this boils down to the buckle of the Bible Belt failing to evangelize each generation. The numbers in Mississippi rose because of a failure of Christians. But the Apostle Paul would agree with archaic laws of our fine state. 1 Corinthians 7 shows that most vividly. Now I may be a caveman. I may also be a poster boy for ignorance as the left so deems Christians in our time. But divorce needs to be difficult. It needs to require the party that wants out to prove their willingness to leave. But I personally HATE divorce.

    • Larry says:

      I think all thoughtful lawyers and judges who do family law hate divorce in the sense that we hate that it is necessary at all. And there are many cases where it is clearly necessary, as where the is physical violence, or adultery, or where a spouse proves to be a child molester or abuser, or drug abuse, or there is alcohol abuse that destroys a family. I will concede that there are cases where the divorce is a mere convenience in my opinion, but the law in those cases leaves it God to judge what is in the individuals’ hearts.

      The legislature decides whether there will be divorce under our law. If there is to be divorce, the process must produce a fair result. The point of my post is that the current system: (a) is not keeping the divorce rate low, if that is what its proponents intend, and (b) subjects the parties to economic blackmail. I’m not sure that Paul would agree that a child molester, for example, against whom the proof is weak, should be able to blackmail his spouse into giving up everything so she could escape the marriage. I’m not sure what public interest it serves, or what moral priciple is upheld, to preserve abusive, dangerous marriages; it seems in such a case that we are elevating a principle over what is truly moral and just.

      I wish there were an effective one-size-fits-all solution, but after nearly 40 years in the law, I know that every case is different.

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe you are a “cavemen” or “poster boy for ignorance.” You seem to be a person of faith who has strong beliefs. There is nothing wrong with that.

  • [...] rather than waste pixels and repeat what others have written, let me direct you to Ben Stevens and Judge Primeaux. 0 Comments – Leave a comment! « Previous [...]

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