Will Mississippi Recognize Same-Sex Divorces?

Mississippi is one of 28 states that have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Under Mississippi Amendment 1 of the Mississippi Constitution, marriage may take place and be valid under the laws of Mississippi only between a man and a woman.  A marriage in another state or jurisdiction between persons of the same gender will not be recognized in Mississippi and is considered void.  While this Amendment appears definitive, in the country’s post-DOMA landscape, the rights of same-sex couples across jurisdictions are less clear than they used to be.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham is testing Mississippi’s post-DOMA laws. Czekala-Chatham married Dana Ann Melancon in California, but did not reside in that state.  Instead, Czekala-Chatham and Melancon have lived together in Southhaven, Mississippi until their separation in 2010.  Czekala-Chatham is now seeking to divorce her wife—and she has filed for divorce in the DeSoto County Chancery Court.  Czekala-Chatham contemplated filing for divorce in California, which does not require same-sex couples meet the traditional residency requirements.  However, California may not be able to rule on matters such as property ownership, debt, and child custody.  Accordingly, Czekala-Chatham and her attorney J. Wesley Hisaw, felt it necessary to seek a divorce in Mississippi.

Czekala-Chatham’s attorney has stated that his client is not looking to make gay marriage in Mississippi legal; rather, she is simply asking the courts to recognize her marriage so that she can obtain a divorce in this state.  Czekala-Chatham said in a telephone interview that she is seeking a divorce from Melancon at this time because she has children from a previous relationship which she needs to protect.  She fears that in the event of her death, Melancon could potentially receive part of her inheritance that she intends for her children.  Czekala-Chatham is seeking ownership of the couple’s Mississippi home and alimony.  Her divorce petition alleges infidelity and cruel and inhumane treatment on behalf of her spouse.

Czekala-Chatham’s case is not entirely unique.  Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that abolished portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, similar cases have been filed in other U.S. states.  The Texas Supreme Court recently announced it will consider whether the state has jurisdiction over same-sex divorces.  Oral arguments are schedule for November 5.  Texas, which like Mississippi does not recognize same-sex marriage, has had at least two same-sex couples file for divorce in the state since June.

Czekala-Chatham’s case is an interesting test case that will likely face an uphill battle.  Massachusetts Constitutional Amendment 1 makes it clear the state does not recognize same-sex marriages.  It stands to reason that same-sex divorces would similarly not be recognized.  However, as Czekala-Chatham reasoned, a lack of jurisdiction to file for divorce in Mississippi may leave her without an adequate remedy anyplace.  California may well not be able to rule on issues central to her divorce, such as ownership of her Mississippi home, alimony, and child custody.  Mississippi, like numerous other states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, will have some serious considerations to make over the next few years as an increasing number of cases will likely continue to be filed concerning post-DOMA issues.

If you are considering divorcing your same-sex spouse in the state of Mississippi, call The Law Office of Matthew S. Poole.  Matthew S. Poole is a preeminent divorce law attorney in Mississippi that is not afraid to take on a challenging case.  Matthew S. Poole will fight tirelessly for your same-sex marriage divorce to gain recognition in Mississippi.  With his creative thinking skills and vast knowledge of Constitutional Law, Matthew S. Poole can help you achieve the legal results you desire.  Call him today at (601) 573-7429 to schedule a consultation.

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