Category Archives: Irreconcilable differences

Clarion-Ledger: Protecting families, or prolonging misery?

Protecting families, or prolonging misery?

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.”

Contact Geoff Pender at 601-961-7266 or gpender@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Divorce Floodgates; Why Mississippi Will Always be Backwards and Our “Leaders” are Leading the Way.

Mississippi is again the butt of the joke, the laughingstock, and the backwards looking, Buckle of the Bible-belt, and proud of it.

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Go Get My Belt

The Mississippi legislature has refused to “open the floodgates of divorce.” This is demonstrated by the recent deaths of two bills. One, providing an additional ground for divorce if your spouse commits Domestic Violence against you, and the second casualty, adding “two years of actual separation” as a fault ground.

A Change of Heart

Who killed it?  The whole legislature is not to blame (or take credit). Both bills passed the Senate. Mississippi House of Representative, Andy Gipson, takes the credit for killing Senate Bill 2703. This is the bill that added Domestic Violence as a ground. Gipson would not even allow the merits of the bill to be considered for discussion in the House. Gipson told the Clarion Ledger “[w]e need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.” Gipson went on to add that current, existing law covers the proposed changes rendering it unnecessary and that the change would “open the floodgates” of divorce. Gipson’s rationale relied upon contradictory points. Gipson argued out of both sides of his mouth.

However, Gipson is wrong. The current, existing law requires proof of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Habitual means constant. It is quite likely that one conviction for Domestic Violence would not be grounds for divorce in a large majority of Mississippi’s divorce Courts. The law provides that for one instance to be enough it has to be physically severe. Interestingly, one conviction is enough to provide that the offender can never possess a gun, ever again, but it does not provide that the spouse-victim can get a divorce.

Gipson provided no means for this change of heart either.

Don’t Go Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game

State Senator Chris McDaniel put in his two cents, as well. As he voted against the proposal to add two years of bona fide, actual separation as an additional ground for divorce, which Gipson also killed. McDaniel stated that “given the state is in the marriage and divorce business, lawmakers shouldn’t be changing the terms of the contract midstream.” This comment literally means that he believes that people seeking to marry fully contemplate the 12 fault grounds for divorce, the Court’s burden of proof to establish same with corroborating witnesses and evidence, and then and only then enter into a marital contract. Ridiculous.

We’re Not Last in Something

Every state except Mississippi and South Dakota provide for a true No-Fault divorce process. This means that in the 48 other states, and the District of Columbia, if you are a resident and want a divorce you get a divorce. According to the Center for Disease Control, Mississippi is tied for the 15th highest divorce rate, per capita, in the United States. That means that over 30 states have a lower divorce rate than Mississippi, despite it being infinitely easier to gain a divorce in those states. Floodgates be damned.

“If You Ain’t First, Your’re Last” – Ricky Bobby

Mississippi is perennially last in every “good” category and first in the “bad” categories. Our head-in-the-sand “leaders” seem to be doing their best to keep us there. Mississippi ranks last in education for high-school graduation, last in school performance , one of the highest unemployment rates, and 49th in teen pregnancy rate. We are also statistically more obese, worse drivers and will die sooner. Maybe that last one is good?

But it Just Enriches Lawyers

I am a divorce lawyer. The current, existing laws only serve to enrich lawyers, not protect families. Our Courts, and man’s law, cannot make people love each other and cannot make people live together. The proposed law change, making divorce law make sense, would make it less lucrative to be a divorce lawyer. But, it’s still the right thing to do. While Gipson and McDaniel are both lawyers, the majority of our legislature is not. Only about 32% of the entire legislature are lawyers. 48 or so, out of 152. It is not a bunch of lawyers running amok. However, 45% of our legislature are Baptists. Some 69 or so, including Gipson and McDaniel. Even if, at best, this is not about money, it means that this is about forcing your subjective beliefs on someone else. Remember, this Country was founded upon religious freedoms. It is in the Constitution.

The Bottom Line

Why should you care? Because the current law promotes divorce blackmail. Divorces are a necessary “evil” of life and marriage. Divorce is rooted in the Bible and while it is despised, it is allowed for adultery, abandonment, abuse and adultery of the heart. The heart that needs to be changed is the heart of a lawmaker that seeks to keep a just-enough-abused, but not too much, spouse in a loveless “marriage.” That is not a marriage. The floodgates are already open. The law change actually serves to help and protect those that we are commanded to help and to protect.

Matthew Thompson is an opinionated divorce lawyer, adjunct professor that teaches family law, author of Mississippi Divorce, Alimony and Child Support, a native Mississippian and proud of all of the above.

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Mediation Explanation

Mediation is a process to help bring your pending litigation (or potential litigation) to a conclusion short of Court.

Mediation is a collaborative effort involving the parties, their attorneys and a hired, third-party neutral, the mediator. In family law cases, it is usually a retired chancellor or a private attorney, who has spent some significant portion of their career handling family law cases.

Mediation is an opportunity for you to have your say, be advised as to the strengths and/or weaknesses of your case, and find the common ground so that you may settle your case.

Mediation is really a guided settlement. If done right (and successfully), at the conclusion of the mediation you leave with a signed settlement and all of the needed documents that can be presented to the Judge to make it final.

Mediation is not an Arbitration. Arbitration has a person(s) that is making the final decision, not the parties. Arbitration is quasi-court.

Mediation is non-binding. Either you reach a deal or you do not. At the end of the day you must agree to get a result.

Mediation is not admissible in Court, if not settled.  Settlement positions cannot be discussed with the Court to show what someone would have done for settlement purposes.

Mediation may be right for you. It is quicker than trial, cheaper than trial, you have say in the outcome and is effective 9 out of 10 times.

Matthew Thompson is a family law attorney that mediates a significant number of cases and advises his clients as to the pros and cons of a mediation.

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