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Marriage and divorce: when does 'where' matter?

Saying, “I do” or “I don’t” does not make a marriage or divorce valid under the law. Marriage requires a marriage license issued by the state. Divorce requires a decree in a court of law.

Each state has its own set of laws regarding the requirements people must meet in order to obtain a marriage. Each state also has its own set of requirements and rules for parental and property rights upon divorce. So when does “where” matter?

Residency is not a requirement for marriage in Mississippi. The physical location for the wedding is the “where” that matters for marriage. If you call Alabama home, you can obtain a valid marriage license in Mississippi as long as you hold the ceremony in the state.

Holding the ceremony in the state, alone, is not sufficient to obtain a license. You must meet a few more requirements, like being old enough to marry, not married currently, choosing a spouse that is not your blood relative and presenting the right identification.

Once you get married, a voluntary process, it becomes a little more difficult to undo. Jurisdiction is especially important in a divorce, because the decisions a court makes concerning property division, custody and support directly affect the rights of the parties. More important, the court can force the decisions on a spouse who may not agree with them or even want the divorce at all.

The residency requirements for divorce are enumerated in Mississippi Code § 93-5-5. At least one spouse has to provide proof that they were a resident of the state for at least six months. If a spouse acquired residence for the sole purpose of divorce (for example, if the property laws are more favorable to them then they would be in another state), then the court can dismiss the complaint.

The residency requirements for military service members are slightly different due to their unique living situations. Military service members and their spouses can meet residency requirements if the service member resided in the state when the pair separated.

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