Matthew Thompson is a Mississippi family law attorney and professor, and having difficult, drawn-out and costly divorces would be good for his pocketbook.
But Thompson supports reform and changes to divorce laws, “even though it’s against my own self interests.”
“The current laws make it expensive, and in some instances, impossible to get a divorce,” said Thompson, whose firm focuses on family law statewide and who is a professor teaching domestic relations at Mississippi College’s law school.
Thompson said the Legislature’s recent divorce law reform, removing a corroboration requirement for abused spouses, is a needed change.
“Our law has required cruelty claims be corroborated with evidence beyond that of the victim’s testimony,” Thompson said. “… Even if the court believed you, you had to have a neighbor, family member, police report or picture, or you didn’t have corroboration … Now, if the court finds the victim truthful and credible, the court can accept that. If you take a step back and think, that makes sense. Our judges have always been the lie detector, always the barometer of whether someone was credible.
“There is some form of abuse in a vast number of divorce cases,” Thompson said. “Not every one, but a lot of them. When you drill down and include physical, mental, emotional, verbal abuse — It’s a significant number of cases. We as human beings treat the people we are supposed to love the most the worst.”
Thompson said he supports Mississippi creating a “no-fault” ground for divorce. South Dakota is the only other state without such a ground. He said opposition to this change, from those saying it will weaken the sanctity of marriage and increase divorces, is misguided. In practice, Mississippi’s lack of a no-fault ground allows one spouse to hold up a divorce, sometimes for years.
“The idea behind making it difficult to get a divorce is that Mississippi is promoting marriage,” Thompson said. “But when you go 10 years and it costs tens of thousands of dollars — those aren’t intact families trying to get back together.
“Our law promotes divorce blackmail,” Thompson said. “… You have to pay what I say, or agree to what I want, or I won’t agree to a divorce … You have a fundamental, constitutional right to marriage, according to (a U.S. Supreme Court ruling). Shouldn’t you have a fundamental right to a divorce? I guess the counter to that is that you don’t have to get married.”
Thompson said some of the moral and religious arguments focused on divorce policies should be focused on the front-end, marriage policies.
“Our state has made it phenomenally easy to get into a marriage,” Thompson said. “There used to be a three-day wait, used to be a blood test requirement. But now you just go to the circuit clerk and pay $25.
“Studies show having mom and dad happily married and living together is what’s best for children and families,” Thompson said. “Having mom and dad get along and living separately would be second best. Mom and dad living together and fighting and being miserable, whether it’s violent or just cold war, that’s not the best. If this is really about protecting families, there are ways to do that, but still have an appropriate and reasonable means to get out of a marriage. It shouldn’t take a beating or physical violence to get there.”