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As of July 2, domestic abuse becomes ground for divorce in MS

An important change to Mississippi's divorce laws takes place on July 2, 2017. On that day, domestic violence will be added to the list of reasons that justify a divorce in the state.

Before passage of the bill during the most recent legislative session, a person could obtain a divorce only if he or she could prove "habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment" by the other spouse. The law also required corroborating testimony from at least one other "credible witness." Because many instances of spousal abuse do not occur when witnesses are present, this requirement became almost impossible to satisfy. Under the new law, the existing ground for dissolution of marriage, "habitual, cruel and inhuman treatment," is re-defined to include "spousal domestic abuse." That term is further defined to include threats, intimidation, emotional and other forms of non-physical abuse if they rise above the level of "unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection." Also, only one witness is required to prove the existence of domestic abuse, and the victim can be that witness.

During the legislative session, the statutory change was initially blocked by Rep. Andy Gipson, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and a Baptist preacher. Gipson received very harsh public opposition to his stance, and he eventually relented. Gipson rationalized his early objection to the bill by stating that the state should find more ways to preserve marriages and not to end them.

Anyone wondering about the effect of the new law may want to consider consulting an experienced divorce attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can provide advice on whether conduct satisfies the definition of spousal domestic abuse and whether the objectionable conduct provides legal grounds for a divorce.

Source: Mississippi Public Broadcasting, "Domestic Violence as Grounds for Divorce Takes Effect July 1," Desare Frazier, June 16, 2017

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