Tag Archives: Andy Gipson

Mississippi Divorce: “A Change of Heart” on Cruelty.

Last week a firestorm erupted when Representative Andy Gipson single-handedly killed two bills seeking to modify divorce law. The first sought to allow for an additional ground for divorce if a spouse committed domestic violence, and the second would  have added a ground based on two years of actual separation. Both died in Gipson’s committee without being considered. The ensuing firestorm placed Mississippi in the local, state and national spotlight for all of the wrong reasons.

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However, it seems that Gipson has had a change of heart. This term, “change of heart,” was quoted from an interview Gipson had with the Clarion Ledger shortly after he killed the original domestic violence as a ground Bill, “[I]f someone has committed violence or assault, they need to have their behavior corrected, they need to have a change of heart.

You may peruse the proposed amended Bill language here. In summary it seeks to clarify existing law and specifically add that the following conduct and burden of proof is included in the Cruelty analysis:

(a) Abusive Physical Conduct. A divorce …may be decreed to the injured party where one or more incidents of the following abusive physical conduct is established through the reliable testimony of one or more credible witnesses, any of whom may be the injured party: (i) that the injured party’s spouse attempted to cause, or  purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to the injured party; or (ii) that the injured party’s spouse attempted  by physical menace to put the injured party in fear of imminent  serious bodily harm.

 (b) Abusive Non-Physical Conduct. In addition to the foregoing subsection, a divorce …may also be decreed to the injured party  where a pattern of abusive non-physical conduct of any one or more  of the following is established through the reliable testimony of  one or more credible witnesses, any of whom may be the injured party:

that the injured party’s spouse engaged in a pattern  against the injured party of (i) threats and/or intimidation, (ii) emotional and/or verbal abuse, (iii) forced isolation, (iv) sexual  extortion and/or sexual abuse, (v) stalking and/or aggravated stalking as defined in Section 97-3-107, and/or (vi) economic or financial abuse; provided that any such established pattern of the foregoing shall be shocking to the conscience of a reasonable person.

(2)Standard of Proof. For purposes of subsection (1) of this section, the standard of proof shall be: (a) Clear and convincing evidence when there is only the reliable testimony of a single credible witness, which may be the  injured party presented to the court; or  (b) Preponderance of the evidence when the reliable  testimony of a single credible witness, which may be the injured  party, is corroborated by other credible physical or forensic evidence presented to the court.   – Senate Bill 2680 as amended by the House, March 6, 2017

This is a good change. It goes further than the original proposed bill. It addresses one of the biggest obstacles in obtaining a divorce on Cruelty, which is the corroboration requirement. Prior to this Bill the complaining party had to have a witness or such other corroboration of physical abuse, in addition to their own testimony.  The problem with that is that in domestic violence situations it is routinely behind closed doors, in secret and it is all too common for the abused to not tell anyone. Routinely the abused does not seek help, either medical or otherwise, due to fear, shame, guilt and threats of it happening again.

This bill also defines forms of non-physical abuse to include threats, intimidation, emotional, verbal, economic and financial abuses. These are all forms of abuse and should be included and should provide for the means to end a marriage if the spouse is doing these things to harm the other spouse.

It is an interesting process watching law be made. Gipson, who last week was the goat is now all about the gloat, with him stating that the real problem all along was the Judges. The Judges that do not apply the law uniformly and what is a fault ground in one Court, is not in another. Perhaps, the ends justify the means in getting to the desired outcome. The above divorce language was added to a Bill that had previously passed the Senate that dealt with Abused and Neglected Children, clarifying relative care.

Any change that seeks to make Mississippi divorce law more consistent and more common sense is a good thing. Complaining about the process may seem petty, but it was you, the concerned citizens, that got Gipson’s attention and made this happen. I received one piece of “hatemail” due to my prior blog. He essentially took me to task for complaining, but not doing anything. However, it seems that the old adage may still be true. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Matthew Thompson is a Mississippi Divorce Attorney and is pleased when the Mississippi Legislature gets one right, regardless of how they got there. Here’s to a Change of Hearts!

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Divorce Floodgates; Why Mississippi Will Always be Backwards and Our “Leaders” are Leading the Way.

Mississippi is again the butt of the joke, the laughingstock, and the backwards looking, Buckle of the Bible-belt, and proud of it.

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Go Get My Belt

The Mississippi legislature has refused to “open the floodgates of divorce.” This is demonstrated by the recent deaths of two bills. One, providing an additional ground for divorce if your spouse commits Domestic Violence against you, and the second casualty, adding “two years of actual separation” as a fault ground.

A Change of Heart

Who killed it?  The whole legislature is not to blame (or take credit). Both bills passed the Senate. Mississippi House of Representative, Andy Gipson, takes the credit for killing Senate Bill 2703. This is the bill that added Domestic Violence as a ground. Gipson would not even allow the merits of the bill to be considered for discussion in the House. Gipson told the Clarion Ledger “[w]e need to have policies that strengthen marriage. If a person is abusive, they need to have a change in behavior and change of heart.” Gipson went on to add that current, existing law covers the proposed changes rendering it unnecessary and that the change would “open the floodgates” of divorce. Gipson’s rationale relied upon contradictory points. Gipson argued out of both sides of his mouth.

However, Gipson is wrong. The current, existing law requires proof of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment. Habitual means constant. It is quite likely that one conviction for Domestic Violence would not be grounds for divorce in a large majority of Mississippi’s divorce Courts. The law provides that for one instance to be enough it has to be physically severe. Interestingly, one conviction is enough to provide that the offender can never possess a gun, ever again, but it does not provide that the spouse-victim can get a divorce.

Gipson provided no means for this change of heart either.

Don’t Go Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game

State Senator Chris McDaniel put in his two cents, as well. As he voted against the proposal to add two years of bona fide, actual separation as an additional ground for divorce, which Gipson also killed. McDaniel stated that “given the state is in the marriage and divorce business, lawmakers shouldn’t be changing the terms of the contract midstream.” This comment literally means that he believes that people seeking to marry fully contemplate the 12 fault grounds for divorce, the Court’s burden of proof to establish same with corroborating witnesses and evidence, and then and only then enter into a marital contract. Ridiculous.

We’re Not Last in Something

Every state except Mississippi and South Dakota provide for a true No-Fault divorce process. This means that in the 48 other states, and the District of Columbia, if you are a resident and want a divorce you get a divorce. According to the Center for Disease Control, Mississippi is tied for the 15th highest divorce rate, per capita, in the United States. That means that over 30 states have a lower divorce rate than Mississippi, despite it being infinitely easier to gain a divorce in those states. Floodgates be damned.

“If You Ain’t First, Your’re Last” – Ricky Bobby

Mississippi is perennially last in every “good” category and first in the “bad” categories. Our head-in-the-sand “leaders” seem to be doing their best to keep us there. Mississippi ranks last in education for high-school graduation, last in school performance , one of the highest unemployment rates, and 49th in teen pregnancy rate. We are also statistically more obese, worse drivers and will die sooner. Maybe that last one is good?

But it Just Enriches Lawyers

I am a divorce lawyer. The current, existing laws only serve to enrich lawyers, not protect families. Our Courts, and man’s law, cannot make people love each other and cannot make people live together. The proposed law change, making divorce law make sense, would make it less lucrative to be a divorce lawyer. But, it’s still the right thing to do. While Gipson and McDaniel are both lawyers, the majority of our legislature is not. Only about 32% of the entire legislature are lawyers. 48 or so, out of 152. It is not a bunch of lawyers running amok. However, 45% of our legislature are Baptists. Some 69 or so, including Gipson and McDaniel. Even if, at best, this is not about money, it means that this is about forcing your subjective beliefs on someone else. Remember, this Country was founded upon religious freedoms. It is in the Constitution.

The Bottom Line

Why should you care? Because the current law promotes divorce blackmail. Divorces are a necessary “evil” of life and marriage. Divorce is rooted in the Bible and while it is despised, it is allowed for adultery, abandonment, abuse and adultery of the heart. The heart that needs to be changed is the heart of a lawmaker that seeks to keep a just-enough-abused, but not too much, spouse in a loveless “marriage.” That is not a marriage. The floodgates are already open. The law change actually serves to help and protect those that we are commanded to help and to protect.

Matthew Thompson is an opinionated divorce lawyer, adjunct professor that teaches family law, author of Mississippi Divorce, Alimony and Child Support, a native Mississippian and proud of all of the above.

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