Bill strengthens domestic abuse provision for divorce

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House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a bill that broadens the ability of domestic abuse victims to cite such abuse as grounds for divorce, according to Rep. Andy Gipson.

Rogelio V. Solis, AP

House Judiciary B Committee chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, speaks during floor debate in the House.

The Braxton Republican said Monday that House and Senate committee members came to an agreement on Senate Bill 2680, which adds “spousal domestic abuse” to an existing grounds for divorce to a bill. The bill originally clarified legal placement options for abused children.

After Gipson criticized media coverage on the issue on the House floor March 28, the House agreed to the changes.

Because the Senate also agreed, the bill goes to Gov. Phil Bryant, a former deputy sheriff who has been vocal about domestic abuse during his tenure.

Gipson came under fire last month when he chose not to take up two bills that made domestic violence and bona fide separation grounds for divorce, respectively.

Ultimately, Gipson proposed the amendment to SB 2680 as the “solution” for the issue.

The conference report adds language that details what constitutes abusive physical and non-physical conduct, and standard of proof for judges to consider when ruling on divorce cases.

It also allows the injured spouse to testify and the court consider that spouse a credible witness. Under existing divorce law, an additional witness is required to corroborate testimony from a spouse about abuse.

The report states spouses who send threats or commit acts of intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or abuse, stalking or aggravated stalking could be found guilty of physical abuse.

The conference report also says a reason for divorce can be “if the pattern or behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.” Gipson told reporters that standard of behavior that “rises above the level of unkindness” was drawn from a state Supreme Court divorce decision.

Gipson said the report will likely be presented to the House on Tuesday.