Every state has certain legalities when it comes to divorce. While some states have waiting periods or fault divorce specifics, others have no-fault divorce classifications that make it much easier to end a marriage. Mississippi is one state that has very strict laws related to the dissolution of marriage. One recent divorce-related ruling is turning heads within the state and making many question what is more important: keeping families together, or keeping victims of domestic violence safe?
In Mississippi, domestic violence is not a grounds for divorce. Thanks to efforts by a Republican lawmaker, a bill was recently rejected that would make domestic violence a legal means to end a marriage. Republican representative Andy Gipson announced last week that Senate Bill 2703 would not pass in the Mississippi legislature. The bill would have allowed domestic violence to be a viable cause for a petition for divorce. It was proposed to be the 13th legal reason for dissolving a marriage, but it was refused.
In Mississippi the other 12 reasons for a fault divorce are incarceration, adultery, desertion, habitual and excessive use of opium or other drugs, natural impotence, habitual drunkenness, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, bigamy, illness, cuckolding that results in pregnancy and some forms of incest. Apparently, being the victim of domestic violence is not sufficiently harmful for Mississippi residents to say “I don’t.”
According to a divorce attorney, the reason for the rejection is that Gipson believes that it would increase the number of divorces sought within Mississippi. Already a high number, he insists that if individuals were allowed to use domestic violence as a legitimate reason for divorce, it would “open the "floodgates.” Gipson maintains that Mississippi doesn’t need another legal reason to tear families apart. In the case of abusive behaviors, he believes that with some counseling and help, a family can be restored and that divorce isn’t necessary.
Gipson believes the reason of “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” should serve as a means for domestic abuse, and that it doesn’t need its own classification. If a judge thinks that the treatment within a marriage meets the criteria already in place, then SB 2703 would be considered already covered, so domestic violence and abuse doesn't need special protection.
Adding another classification, he maintains, would just be overkill. His fears are that the definition of “domestic abuse” is too inclusive and might encompass things like raising someone’s voice, and that it might be used as an excuse to get out of a marriage quickly.
Domestic violence victims and advocacy groups are stunned by the denial of domestic abuse as a means for divorce. Many believe that the right-leaning state is already too strict on divorce and keeps children and women trapped in dangerous situations. Domestic violence is a very serious problem and without intervention, is often allowed to continue. The incentive that SB 2703 would have provided for victims to come forward is gone -- which means many more people will suffer at their spouse’s hands, because they know that they have little recourse if they do come forward.
Advocates insist that the “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” clause is not the same as domestic violence, nor is it a good substitute. To prove the word “habitual” is not simple. It requires that there is sufficient proof of repeated violence. If someone is struck just once, they should have grounds to walk away. By negating domestic violence as a reason and using the habitual definition already in place, the state is likely keeping victims in situations that are harmful for far longer than necessary.
Being physically or emotionally abused is already difficult to prove, advocates insist, and shouldn’t have to be habitual to be addressed and rectified. Currently, South Dakota and Mississippi are the only states that don’t have “no-fault" divorce laws, which means that a divorce can take years and have delays around every corner.
Although it’s a valiant cause, trying to keep a marriage intact by denying someone’s basic rights and safety is inhuman. Keeping families together even when there is violence and abuse happening doesn’t help the strength or wellness of any family in Mississippi or anywhere. What the denial of SB 2703 did was to tell domestic violence victims that they have to find their own way out of dangerous situations.
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