New Law Allows Abused Spouses to Divorce
After more than 40 years without major changes to Mississippi’s divorce laws, the Mississippi legislature recently made it easier for abused spouses to obtain a divorce. Governor Bryant intends to sign the bill.
Until now there have been traditionally twelve “fault” grounds for divorce:
- Natural impotency;
- Being sentenced to a penitentiary and not being pardoned before being sent there;
- Willful, continued, obstinate desertion for the space of one year;
- Habitual drunkenness;
- Habitual and excessive use of opium, morphine, or like drug;
- Habitual cruel and inhuman treatment;
- Insanity on the date of the marriage, if the complainant was without knowledge of the insanity;
- Marriage to some other person at the time of the purported marriage;
- Pregnancy of the wife by another at the time of the marriage, without the husband’s knowledge;
- Relation within the prohibited degrees of kindred; and
- Incurable insanity.
Under these traditional grounds an abused spouse could attempt to file under the habitual cruel inhuman treatment ground. However, if the abuse was isolated or did not occur with some frequency, the abused spouse would find nearly impossible to obtain a divorce.
The new law expands the habitual cruel and inhuman treatment ground to now include “spousal domestic abuse”. And further provides that the domestic abuse can be:
- established through the reliable testimony of a single credible witness, who may be the injured party, and includes, but is not limited to:
- That the injured party’s spouse attempted to cause, or purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to the injured party, or that the injured party’s spouse attempted by physical menace to put the injured party in fear of imminent serious bodily harm; or
- That the injured party’s spouse engaged in a pattern of behavior against the injured party of threats or intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or sexual abuse, or stalking or aggravated stalking as defined in Section 97-3-107, if the pattern of behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.
With this additional language an abused spouse, even in the face of the abuser’s objection to the separation, may obtain a divorce from an abusive spouse after a single event. The bill further expands and clarifies that emotional and verbal abuse may allow a divorce, though this section maintains the “pattern of behavior” language.
Mississippi, along with South Dakota, remain the only two states in which there is no unilateral no-fault divorce grounds. This means, that a party may obtain a divorce by agreement of both, or proving one of the fault grounds above.