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DOMESTIC ABUSE ALREADY A GROUND FOR DIVORCE
Rep. Andy Gipson

As Chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee, there is a reason for decisions I make in considering, or not considering legislation. On February 28, 2017 I clearly announced the reasons in not taking up Senate Bill 2703. The divorce policy of the State of Mississippi has been in place for a very, very long time. Senate Bill 2703 was unnecessary because Mississippi law has long recognized domestic abuse as a legitimate ground for divorce. One of the very basic grounds of divorce in Mississippi is, and has been, “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” This standard, already written in the law, has been interpreted for years by the Mississippi Supreme Court to include a “continuous course of conduct on the part of the offending spouse which was so unkind, unfeeling or brutal as to endanger, or put one in reasonable apprehension of danger to life, limb or health . . .” Holladay v. Holladay, 776 So. 2d 662, 676 (Miss. 2000) (citing Robison v. Robison, 722 So. 2d 601, 603 (Miss. 1998)).

The Mississippi Supreme Court has also found that this basis for divorce applies to both physical and non-physical abuse. In fact, under current law it is not even necessary to produce evidence of physical abuse. See Bodne v. King, 835 So. 2d 52, 58 (Miss. 2003). In that case, the Court outlined some of the principles of abuse on which a divorce can be granted:

“Physical violence directed at the offended spouse is not required.  Richard, 711 So.2d at 889 (slovenly behavior coupled with accusations of incest held sufficient).   Mere unkindness, rudeness, petty indignities, frivolous quarrels, incompatibility or lack of affection are not sufficient.  Steen v. Steen, 641 So.2d 1167, 1170 (Miss.1994);  McKee v. Flynt, 630 So.2d 44, 48 (Miss.1993).   One set of conduct evincing habitual cruel and unusual conduct is ill-founded accusations, threats and malicious sarcasm, insults and verbal abuse which cause such mental suffering as to destroy health and endanger the life of an innocent spouse.  Chamblee v. Chamblee, 637 So.2d 850, 859 (Miss.1994).”

Although generally cruel and inhuman treatment must be shown to have occurred over a period of time, long ago in 1971 the Mississippi Supreme Court established that: “. . . one incident of personal violence may be of such a violent nature as to endanger the life of the complainant spouse and be of sufficient gravity to establish the charge of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” Ellzey v. Ellzey, 253 So.2d 249 (1971).

As I said in the February 28th committee meeting, the law already provides a clear way out of a marriage for victims of domestic abuse, without the need for another bill. To deny this reality is to ignore the current state of Mississippi law.
Divorce is a tragic event in the life of any couple. Sometimes it is necessary and/or unavoidable, and especially so in cases of domestic abuse. Victims of cruel and inhuman treatment should get out. But Mississippi doesn’t need another bill to say what the law already says.

Rep. Andy Gipson
3/1/17

Posted March 1, 2017 - 10:45 am

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