February 18, 2011
MS Bill on Abuse as Divorce Ground Fails
From the AP:
The Mississippi House has defeated a bill that would have given a spouse grounds for divorce if they have been away from an abusive situation for five years or longer.
The Commercial Appeal reports that the bill was defeated Thursday on a vote of 81-39. The bill had earlier passed the Senate.
Backers say the bill would have made it easier for spouses, usually wives, to file for divorce when that spouse leaves home to avoid abuse and the other spouse will not agree to filing for divorce.
State law already allows a spouse who is abandoned to file for divorce, but existing law does not address when one party leaves home and the other will not give them a divorce.
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The Commercial Appeal article is not accurate. The bill created a ground for divorce based on separation. It was not limited to abused spouses. Mississippi Law currently allows a spouse to obtain a divorce based on habitual, cruel, and inhuman treatment, which includes abuse. However, Mississippi does not recognize unilateral no-fault divorce. If a spouse cannot prove fault-based grounds (including abuse), and the other will not agree to a divorce, they must stay married. There is no ground for divorce based on separation alone. This bill would have allowed ANY spouse -- not just one who is abused -- to obtain a divorce after a five-year separation.
However, the bill would probably have benefitted abused spouses, who often have difficulty proving habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment. Mississippi law requires corroboration of the ground for divorce, which may be difficult in cases of abuse. The state also recognizes the common law defense of condonation. If an abused spouse returns to the home after separating (including going to a shelter), she or he has condoned the prior abuse and no longer has grounds for divorce, unless the abuse recurs.
Deborah H. Bell, University of Mississippi School of Law
Posted by: Debbie Bell | Feb 21, 2011 6:43:25 AM