Mississippi Divorce Laws on Equitable Distribution

By Beverly Bird

Mississippi divorce law changed significantly in 1994, when the Supreme Court handed down two important decisions in the cases of Ferguson v. Ferguson and Hemsley v. Hemsley. These precedents updated the state’s treatment of marital property in divorce. Mississippi is an equitable distribution state, so property is not necessarily divided 50/50 between spouses.

Marital Versus Separate Property

Mississippi law differentiates between marital and separate property. Inheritances, gifts and property owned by a spouse before marriage are generally exempt from distribution in divorce. Everything else is marital and subject to division. Subsequent to the Hemsley and Ferguson decisions, it no longer matters whose name appears on an asset's title or deed; the court still treats the property as jointly owned. As in other states, it’s possible for a spouse to change the status of his separate property to marital property by commingling it with marital assets. When this occurs, the asset loses its immunity from equitable distribution.

"Ferguson Factors"

“Ferguson factors” refer to the precedents set forth by the 1994 Ferguson decision. Before 1994, judges had the right to award the lion’s share of marital property to the spouse who earned more and who presumably contributed more toward its purchase. Following the Ferguson decision, Mississippi courts began to recognize labor contributions to a marriage with courts typically weighing household contributions and financial contributions equally when considering what efforts led to the acquisition of marital property. The Ferguson factors also negated the importance of which spouse holds title to a particular asset acquired during the marriage.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Other Factors

Mississippi judges consider other issues when making a division of marital property as well. If one spouse owns considerable separate property, a judge might determine that he, therefore, needs less than 50 percent of the couple’s marital property. Courts might also award one spouse more property in lieu of alimony or spousal support. If spouses don’t want a court to weigh all individual circumstances when deciding property issues, they can arrive at their own agreement through negotiations. Judges will usually honor any such agreement, unless it is grossly unfair to one spouse or the other. Mississippi law also recognizes prenuptial agreements and, as such, one spouse can waive an interest in marital property or the other's separate property if she chooses to do so.

Marital Fault

Technically, Mississippi courts do not consider marital misconduct when dividing property. The law does not allow judges to make punitive awards, such as awarding additional property to the wronged spouse if the other abused her or committed adultery. However, judges can take certain types of misconduct into consideration such as a spouse squandering or wasting assets, or if a spouse deliberately transferred property out of the marital estate to avoid losing a portion of it through equitable distribution. In these cases, a judge may award some of that spouse's separate property to his partner to avoid having her pay for her partner's wrongdoing by receiving less property than she would have if he had not committed these acts.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
How Are Assets Divided in Michigan During a Divorce?


Related articles

South Carolina Divorce Court Ruling on a Spouse Trying to Take Everything I Worked For

Most people have heard horror stories about a spouse who seems to lose everything when he divorces, such as a large portion of his business or an expensive home. However, this type of dramatic property settlement is uncommon. In South Carolina, judges have substantial leeway when splitting property in a divorce, but state law gives them factors to consider before making a decision.

What Assets Are Protected From Divorce Settlements?

Divorce courts in all states recognize that some property is solely yours, immune from distribution in a divorce. If you must go to trial where a judge will divide marital property for you, the law protects these assets. If you and your spouse negotiate a settlement, you can usually do anything you like with your property and the court will approve your agreement. If you want to follow the letter of the law when you create your settlement agreement, several rules determine what constitutes separate, protected property.

What Is Meant by Fraud As a Grounds for Divorce?

In many states, spouses wishing to file for divorce can choose one of many grounds, or reasons, upon which to base their divorce. State laws can vary widely when it comes to divorce law. In some states, the fraudulent conduct of one spouse may provide grounds for divorce, though this is more commonly grounds for annulment -- which voids the marriage as if it never existed -- rather than divorce.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

North Carolina Considerations in Separation of Assets During a Divorce

Property division is one of the most important issues a divorcing couple faces -- and sometimes one of the most ...

Texas Law Regarding Assets in Divorce

Divorce laws in Texas are complicated by the fact that, technically, it is a community property state, but in reality, ...

Distribution of Marital Property in a Final Divorce Decree in Virginia

Property division in divorce can be difficult to understand in equitable distribution states because there are few hard ...

Marital Property Laws in Ohio

Couples who decide to divorce often wonder how their property will be split, or how much say they have in the matter. ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED