Senate approves domestic violence as grounds for divorce

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The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that gives domestic abuse victims a broader ability to file for divorce.

Gil Ford Photography

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven

The bill, defended Wednesday by Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, mirrors language in a House bill passed earlier this week. That bill was adopted on Monday after Rep. Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, faced scrutiny for killing a bill in committee last week that would have added domestic abuse as ground for divorce.

The main change adopted to House Bill 1356 Wednesday in the Senate is that an injured spouse can testify themselves about abuse and the court will consider them as credible witness. Under existing divorce law, an additional witness is required to corroborate the testimony of the spouse claiming abuse.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously.

Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, said he was concerned that the bill created “a higher standard” for spouses who testified without corroboration. Wiggins argued that the language of the bill still made it easier for victims who had another witness to be taken at their word.

“With this language, we are telling the victim that they are not to be believed when it is just them testifying against their abuser,” Wiggins said. “It’s a higher standard, and I don’t think it’s right.”

Doty agreed with Wiggins’ concern and said the bill will move to conference committee for further discussion before being signed into law.

The House on Monday passed Senate Bill 2680, 118-0. That bill originally clarified legal placement options for abused children. Gipson’s amendment added language that details what constitutes abusive physical and non-physical conduct, and standard of proof.

The amendment added “evidentiary standards” for judges to use in divorce cases, which would provide them with “guidance on what is abusive physical conduct, what constitutes abusive non-physical conduct and the standard of proof judges would have to apply.”

“It’s a problem of judicial discretion and judicial disparity, and by proposing this solution, we get down where the rubber meets the road and we provide real relief to victims of domestic abuse,” Gipson said during an interview with SuperTalk radio host J.T. Williamson on Monday afternoon when he first outlined his plan for the amendment.

The amendment also clarifies what constitutes habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, which is already a grounds for divorce in Mississippi, and include specific examples of physical and non-physical abuse.

Executive Director of the Center for Violence Prevention (CVP) Sandy Middleton called the Gipson amendment “a wonderful accomplishment for victims.” Her organization worked with Gipson to craft the amendment language.

“With this legislation the victim will be able to speak for themselves, and that’s huge,” Middleton said earlier this week. “They can stand before the judge and tell their story.”