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MS legislator reconsiders domestic abuse as grounds for divorce

In our last post, we commented on the decision by Rep. Andy Gipson, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in the Mississippi legislature, to refuse to hold hearings on a bill passed by the state Senate that would have added domestic abuse to the statutory grounds for divorce in Mississippi. After a vociferous public backlash against that decision, Rep. Gipson has changed his mind.

Current Mississippi law specifies 12 grounds for seeking a divorce, including drunkenness, adultery and impotence, but domestic abuse is not among them. Rep. Gipson is a Baptist minister, and he said that he decided to kill the proposed change because he did not want to expand the legal grounds for divorce in the state. He also stated that he thought the existing statutory ground, "habitual cruel and inhuman treatment," included domestic abuse.

Rep. Gipson's decision provoked criticism from other legislators and divorce lawyers who felt that the change was necessary to bring Mississippi's divorce laws in line with modern ideas of appropriate grounds for allowing couples to end their marriages. Domestic violence usually occurs behind closed doors without any witnesses and "habitual abuse" is therefore difficult to prove because corroborating witnesses are rarely available.

After reconsidering the matter, Rep. Gipson introduced an amendment that makes a single incident of domestic abuse a lawful reason to end a marriage. The bill also specifies that the victim may testify to the abuse and that a corroborating witness is not required. The amendment was easily passed in the House of Representatives and is headed for the Senate, where speedy enactment is expected.

Source: Huffington Post, "Mississippi Lawmaker Reconsiders Domestic Violence As Grounds For Divorce," Melissa Jeltsen, Mar. 7, 2017

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