HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Mississippi Senate passed a bill that would allow domestic violence to be added as a legal reason to file for divorce.
"Abuse is a cycle," said Sara Holifield, executive director of the Domestic Abuse Family Shelter. "It's a cycle. A lot of the time it's more of a comfort thing for these people, and they're scared. We have children in shelter as small as two weeks old. We've had some women in shelter that have had a baby in shelter and have come back to shelter. I mean, that is a huge deal for us. We keep these people safe. So when we look at it, yeah, we're like 'this is a home run.'"
"Apparently you have to habitually beat your spouse for it to be a grounds," attorney Shawn Lowrey said. "One would think that if you hit them one time, that would be enough, but you have to make it a reoccurring practice. I think that if you hit your spouse one time, you should be entitled to a divorce, and so if that's what they intended, outstanding. Good for them."
Holifield works with domestic abuse survivors everyday, and said she understands how intense some abusive marriages can be.
"We had a situation in Hattiesburg where even coming to Laurel wasn't safe enough," she said. "We had to get her to another location. Her spouse knew exactly where she was. He was stalking her. We had the phone. he was driving by, revving up his truck. It was a severe safety issue."
But under current Mississippi law, that abuse would not be enough to file for divorce, unless it could be proven to be a habitual pattern.
"All Mississippi divorces require corroborating evidence, which means a second person that comes in and says, 'Yes. I saw that behavior,'" Lowrey said. "Most of the time when you encounter physical abuse or even emotional abuse, that happens inside of a home. You don't have many people, maybe the children can testify to it, but then you have nine-year-olds that are being asked to testify. Nobody wants that."
Lowrey said Mississippi is only one of two states that requires strict grounds to file for divorce.
"Mississippi will not let you out of a marriage if unless you have grounds or both parties agree they don't want to be married anymore," Lowrey said. "Unfortunately, it traps people in marriages that are loveless and cause problems sometimes leads to emotional and physical abuse itself."
However, Lowery said the bill is written broadly and leaves out some necessary details.
"It says that you have to have had domestic violence. Well, does that mean a conviction? Does that not mean a conviction? Do I still need a corroborating witness? Those are all questions that they don't answer that would certainly be beneficial if they do answer," Lowery said.
He also said it would be beneficial for lawmakers to clarify if one proven incident of domestic abuse is enough to file for divorce.
"If you lay hands on your spouse, period, you have grounds for divorce? I think that is a great idea," Lowrey said. "There is never an excuse to hit somebody. Period."
Overall, Lowery said he would support the additional grounds for divorce.
"Anything that makes it more likely that people that need to be divorced can get divorced is always a benefit," Lowrey said. "The worst thing that I see in my line of work is where people can't get divorced that need to be divorced."
"It's a home run for the state of Mississippi," Holifield said.
The bill now moves to the House for a vote.