Mississippi Judge Refuses to Grant Same-Sex Divorce

Recently, a Mississippi judge in Desoto County refused to grant Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham a divorce from her wife, Dana Ann Melancon.  Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham, a credit analyst and mother of two sons from a previous straight marriage, married Dana Ann Melancon in California, where same-sex marriage is legal.  Czekala-Chatham filed for divorce in her home state of Mississippi in September.  Her request was met with much publicity and opposition.  The Democrat Attorney General Jim Hood’s office filed a motion to intervene, urging the court had no obligation to give effect to California laws which are contrary to Mississippi state policy.

After reviewing arguments by all parties, Desoto County Chancery Judge Mitchell Lundy ultimately concluded he could not grant the divorce because the marriage was not recognized under state law.  Judge Lundy, although sympathetic to Czekala-Chatham’s situation, felt his hands were tied by Mississippi law.  In 1997, lawmakers amended Mississippi state law to expressly prohibit same-sex marriage.  Marriages between persons of the same gender are considered null and void in the state.  Further, in 2004, by an overwhelming 86 percent, Mississippi voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

Due to the prohibition in their home state, Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham and Dana Ann Melancon traveled to San Francisco to wed in 2008.  They purchased a home in Mississippi shortly after the marriage ceremony.  The marriage, however, took a turn for the worse.  Czekala-Chatham chose to file for divorce in Mississippi instead of California because she feels she should not be treated differently from straight couples.  Further, because Mississippi will not recognize a divorce from California, the couple’s marital property would be in a state of limbo.

The attorney for Czekala-Chatham urged that due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling finding parts of the Defense of Marriage Act illegal and ordering federal recognition of same-sex marriage, a situation has arisen in which same-sex couples are lawfully married under the laws of the United States but not Mississippi law.  This unique predicament leaves couples like Czekala-Chatham without an adequate legal remedy.

Mississippi is not the only state grappling with the relatively new issue of same-sex divorce.  The Texas Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments concerning whether the state could grant a divorce to gay couples married outside the state.  The case involves two couples from Austin and Dallas who married in Massachusetts then sought divorces in Texas.  The couple from Austin was actually granted a divorce but the Attorney General intervened in the Dallas case and blocked the divorce.  Arguing before the Texas Supreme Court, the Assistant Attorney General James Blacklock urged that there can be no divorce due to the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Without a marriage, there cannot be a divorce, Blacklock reasons.  Additionally, a case similar to that of Czekala-Chatham was just filed in Kentucky, where two women who wed in Massachusetts are seeking a divorce.

Czekala-Chatham vows to appeal the decision of the Chancery judge and, although she expressed disappointment, she remains hopeful she will receive some sort of resolve.  While Czekala-Chatham is the first individual to seek a same-sex divorce in Mississippi, it is unlikely she will be the last.  With more and more states legalizing same-sex marriage, divorce rates among gay couples will continue to climb and many will seek divorces in their home states.

Matthew S. Poole is a Mississippi divorce attorney with a reputation for innovation and unmatched excellence in legal services.  If you are seeking a divorce in Mississippi, whether it be same-sex or conventional, call Matthew S. Poole today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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