(Mississippi, March 2017) – Should domestic violence be considered as grounds for divorce? A bill recently passed in Mississippi includes domestic violence in the definition of “habitual cruel and inhumane treatment” and legally considers abuse as a reason for granting a divorce.
Under the previous law, divorce in Mississippi could be granted under 12 grounds but filing on grounds of domestic abuse was difficult, especially if a spouse contested the divorce. Changes in the current law include abuse as the 13th ground for divorce. The Amendment to Senate Bill 2680 (Miss.) defines abuse as: physical abuse, threats of harm, emotional and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, isolation and financial abuse in its definition of abusive conduct. The bill also includes a provision that a victimized spouse can testify in court and be considered a credible witness ; under the old law an additional witness was required to corroborate testimony
Mississippi divorce attorney Matthew Thompson comments, “This is a good change. It goes further than the original proposed bill. It addresses one of the biggest obstacles in obtaining a divorce on Cruelty, which is the corroboration requirement. Prior to this Bill the complaining party had to have a witness or such other corroboration of physical abuse, in addition to their own testimony. The problem with that is that in domestic violence situations it is routinely behind closed doors, in secret and it is all too common for the abused to not tell anyone. Routinely the abused does not seek help, either medical or otherwise, due to fear, shame, guilt and threats of it happening again…“
The passing of the bill did not come easy, Mississippi has one of the strictest set of divorce laws in the country. Senate Bill 2680 was authored by Sen. Sally Doty (R-Brookhaven), who fought for a way for victims of domestic violence to get out of an abusive marriage. Before the amendment passed, if one spouse were to contest the divorce, the person seeking to end the marriage must come to an agreement with the spouse or seek a divorce based on the existing grounds. The final decision to grant the divorce would be left to the court. The divorce process was especially challenging for abuse victims, and created obstacles that posed a risk to their safety and well-being.
The original bill passed by an overwhelming majority in the Senate but faced opposition in the House when Chairman Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) objected. When the bill died, without receiving a vote, concerned citizens and advocates refused to let it go – and continued to show an outpouring of support, flooding the Legislature with letters and keeping the issue in the forefront of media attention. Rep. Gipson then proposed an amendment to the bill, which passed in March 2017. ::Applause::
Personal Note: What encourages me about this story is that it shows that citizens and groups of people really can make a difference in working to raise awareness about issues important to them and working toward changes in laws or changes in the government.
I have talked with parents all over the U.S. and heard horrific stories about domestic violence, abusive spouses and the failures of family court (and CPS). After going through such hardship, I am always so amazed by the strength of parents to not only keep fighting for their children, and for justice.
I know it seems like an uphill battle.. and that change will never come… but after hearing about the struggles to pass Senate Bill 2680 and that even after this bill had died, it was revived and passed, gives me immense hope.
I want to say to all parents, concerned citizens, advocates and professionals, lawmakers… look to what was accomplished in Mississippi. Take a look at the problems happening in the family court system, and what the court failures are doing to families, to children, to society. Listen to the stories of victims, read the letters or petitions being sent to you with an open mind. And have the courage to fight for needed change…your efforts will save lives.
~ “Emily Court” © 2017
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