There are lots of common questions I get in my practice about divorce, but one of the most frequent is whether or not Mississippi recognizes “legal” separation. The short answer is no. You are married until you are divorced or someone is dead.
The closest thing we have to “legal” separation is when there is a temporary order in place which mandates the rules for separation, including but not limited to custody, visitation, child support, medical expenses, additional child related expenses, use and responsibility for the marital home, alimony and the service of marital debt. Across the state and sometimes even within a particular county, judges’ approach to temporary hearings will vary. Some judges will let you talk all day. Many will limit the hearing to about an hour. Some will not grant a hearing at all, they will conference with counsel for the parties and attempt to maintain the status quo. Some judges will place an expiration date on a temporary order and sometimes they will stay in place for years. I have said for a decade that Mississippi needs a uniform approach to temporary hearings, but alas, one does not seem to be in our near future.
This often comes up as it relates to post separation dating. “I just met this great guy who is legally separated…”
He is married and you are technically committing adultery.
He may be flat stuck.
Mississippi is the last state that does not have no-fault divorce legislation. You still either have to have a reason or an agreement. Because we do not have true no-fault divorce legislation, we have an archaic animal called separate maintenance. Essentially, a judge can impose separate maintenance if the “leaving” spouse refuses to and has a responsibility to support the “left” spouse. The leaving must not have justification and the left must want the leaver to come home. While I believe in marriage, I think separate maintenance is stupid, and apparently, the rest of the country agrees.
So, when someone on the street asks you whether or not there is legal separation in Mississippi, the answer is no.
Craig Robertson is a divorce attorney practicing throughout Mississippi.