After facing backlash for killing a bill that would have added domestic violence to the list of legal reasons a person can get a divorce in Mississippi, state Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) has backtracked.
The Mississippi lawmaker introduced an amendment on Monday that would allow physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and financial abuse as grounds for divorce.
Gipson had earlier argued that victims of domestic violence were already covered under the existing grounds.
There are currently 12 grounds for divorce in the state, including adultery, drunkenness and impotence. Victims of domestic violence can petition for divorce on grounds of “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” ― but experts say it is difficult for victims to prove the abuse was “habitual,” and someone else has to corroborate their claims.
The amended bill clarifies that only one instance of abuse is needed, and that the victim can testify as the sole witness.
“I am very pleased that the Mississippi House of Representatives has adopted a set of clear evidentiary guidelines on the important issue of domestic abuse divorce,” Gipson said in a statement.
“These guidelines will provide real and immediate help to domestic violence victims, as well as assistance to judges statewide as they consider domestic abuse divorce cases.”
He said he worked with the Mississippi Center for Violence Prevention to draft the solution. The amended bill passed the House on Monday and now heads to the Senate.
In a blog post, divorce lawyer Matthew Thompson, an adjunct professor of family law at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson, praised the amendment for addressing one of the biggest obstacles facing domestic violence victims when obtaining a divorce: the corroboration requirement.
“Prior to this bill, the complaining party had to have a witness or such other corroboration of physical abuse, in addition to their own testimony,” he wrote.
“The problem with that is that in domestic violence situations it is routinely behind closed doors, in secret and it is all too common for the abused to not tell anyone.”
Melissa Jeltsen covers domestic violence and other issues related to women’s health, safety and security. Tips? Feedback? Send an email or follow her on Twitter.
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