A bill that would have added domestic violence to the list of legal reasons a person can get a divorce in Mississippi died in a House committee on Tuesday after its chairman, state Rep. Andy Gipson (R), said it could open “the floodgates” to more divorces. “If there’s a case of abuse, that person needs to have change of behavior and a serious change of heart,” he was quoted as saying. “Hopefully even in those cases restoration can happen.”
“I was shocked,” said Wendy Mahoney, the executive director of the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “All we were seeking with that bill was to assist and support survivors of domestic violence who were seeking a divorce — to at least lighten their load a little bit.”
In a Facebook post published Wednesday, Gipson explained his reasoning further. “Sometimes [divorce] is necessary and/or unavoidable, and especially so in cases of domestic abuse,” he wrote. “Victims of cruel and inhuman treatment should get out. But Mississippi doesn’t need another bill to say what the law already says.”
Advocates who work with domestic violence victims don’t agree.
Wendy Mahoney, executive director of the Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, has been lobbying to change the state’s antiquated divorce laws because of the need she’s seen among their clients. “Basically, we wanted to make this process easier for individuals, being that they are already dealing with so many issues — child custody, rebuilding their lives and so on,” Mahoney told HuffPost in a previous interview. There are currently 12 grounds for divorce in Mississippi, including adultery, drunkenness and impotence. Victims of domestic violence can attempt to get a divorce on grounds of “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment” ― but experts say it can be difficult to prove, requires corroboration and without explicit language addressing domestic abuse, Mississippi divorce law does not allow for types of abuse that are not physical, such as emotional and financial abuse.
“The law right now provides a path for the abuser to continue. It perpetuates the abuse.”
Sandy Middleton, executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention, told WDAM that under the current law, the abuse must be witnessed by another person if a victim is pursuing divorce on those grounds. This poses a problem, as domestic violence often happens behind closed doors. “Many times the only people who corroborate the acts of violence are the children in the homes,” she said. “That’s terribly traumatic for them.” Matthew Thompson, a divorce lawyer and adjunct professor of family law at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson, said that Mississippi is one of only two states without a true “no-fault” divorce law. In essence, he said, that means a person can’t get a divorce unless both parties agree to it or the individual can prove one of the 12 grounds. Currently, abusive spouses can hold up the divorce indefinitely until their partner agrees to their terms, committing what Thompson calls “divorce blackmail.” “The law right now provides a path for the abuser to continue. It perpetuates the abuse.”
Free Yourself Global: Healing Families; Ending Domestic Violence
At Transcendent Media Capital we are committed to raising awareness on a number of social justice issues in order to foster dialogue and bring about transformative social change. Our main campaign, Free Yourself Global, explores the enculturation of violence through families over generations, and how does one, whether the abuser or the abused, interrupt the pattern of violence? This for-profit campaign will contribute over half the proceeds directly to our affiliate organizations combating this pandemic and supporting victims and recovering abusers. We also aim to connect these groups to share resources, tools, ideas, and collaborate. Currently organizations from over 68 countries around the world have officiated their support of Free Yourself.
More importantly, this initiative hopes to bring together all of the voices of the participants of domestic violence, including recovering abusers, victims, children, educators, support agencies and health professionals, law enforcement agencies, politicians, celebrities and social entrepreneurs who work to aid in this cause. It is in this aim that “Free Yourself” inspires us. When all stakeholders come together in a grass roots forum, we strengthen our ability to understand, address, and end the cycle of domestic abuse.
For more information on how to become involved in this breakthrough campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out our website freeyourselfglobal.com and find us on facebook and instragram @FreeYourselfGlobal. Share your story or thoughts with us using the hashtag #FreeYourselfGlobal or anonymously through our website.