The first in a series on divorce basics.
Mississippi has two methods of obtaining a divorce: contested (fault-based) divorce and irreconcilable differences (“ID” or “no-fault”) divorce. This post is intended to give an overview of the no-fault divorce process. I’ll cover contested divorce and the specifics of each process in later posts.
No-fault divorce in Mississippi requires both individuals to agree to the divorce. For most no-fault divorces, the process goes as follows:
1. The parties sign a petition for divorce called a “Joint Bill” and a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), and both documents are filed at the courthouse.
2. A minimum of sixty days must pass after filing before a chancery court judge can finalize the divorce. At any point prior to the divorce being finalized, either party can withdraw their consent to the divorce and halt the proceedings.
3. Once a minimum of sixty days have passed after filing the Joint Bill and PSA, the chancery court judge can sign off on a document usually called a “Final Decree of Divorce,” at which point the divorce is final.
Arguably the most important document is the Property Settlement Agreement, which sets out how real estate, vehicles, personal property, alimony, money, and debts are to be divided. The PSA also spells out exactly how child support, custody, and visitation will be handled by the parties. When the divorce is finalized, the PSA is made a part of the final decree so that, if necessary, it can be enforced by the court later on.
Cost and DIY
One of the main benefits to a no-fault divorce versus a contested divorce is cost. Generally speaking, contested divorces cost significantly more than no-fault divorces. If you and your spouse can agree on terms, usually a single attorney can draw up the paperwork.
There are a number of do-it-yourself legal sites on the web these days. Some of them offer good quality forms and some don’t. It’s certainly possible to generate forms using one of these sites, sometimes for much less than hiring an attorney. However, if the forms have an issue, it’s often with the PSA. More often than not, the issue arises not from what’s in the PSA, but from what’s left out.
Issues with a PSA can arise years after the divorce, and can cost far more than the amount you may save with a do-it-yourself site. No doubt many divorcing couples never experience any problems, but for some, the realization that they cut one corner too many can come too late. Modifying errors in a PSA can be costly and, in some cases, impossible. It is incredibly important that your PSA spells out exactly what you and your spouse expect from each other
Not all divorces begin and end exclusively as no-fault or contested divorces. Sometimes a contested divorce is settled, with the parties agreeing to withdraw fault-based grounds and consenting to a no-fault divorce.
Also, while the usual procedure is to file a PSA that includes the parties’ agreement on the issues of property settlement, custody, and support, it is possible for a married couple to agree to a divorce and submit any issues on which they do not agree for the court to decide. In such a case, the chancery court judge would conduct a hearing on the topics upon which the parties cannot agree, and would make his or her own determinations about those issues. It is important to note that this type of divorce won’t always have the cost savings of other no-fault divorces, as the attorney(s) will have to prepare for and conduct a hearing in much the same way they would for a contested divorce.
Every Divorce is Different
If you’re considering a divorce, it is vital to consult with an attorney before you begin the process. It’s important to consider all the facts of your particular situation before starting down the path either to a no-fault or to a contested divorce.