“Ugly Divorce Reform Bill Threatens Victims of Domestic Violence”

By June Carbone

Kansas City Star headlines recently announced what those in the field have long known: a tough economy increases the incidence of domestic violence and depletes the resources available to combat it.

What has received less attention is a new Missouri bill that would make matters worse.

House Bill 1234 claims to promote “heterosexual marriage” by making divorce more difficult; what it really does is to strip away hard-won protections for the victims of domestic violence. Indeed, the bill’s proposals are so one-sided, it should be renamed “The Full Protection of Batterers Act.”

The proposals start by limiting divorce to cases of mutual consent or “marital irresponsibility.” Marital irresponsibility, however, includes domestic abuse only in cases of “serious spousal abuse involving injury to petitioner where petitioner was not the initiator of physical violence” or a “history of serious emotional or physical abuse.”

Consider what this means. Husband and wife argue. Husband threatens to kill the wife, and beats her up so badly she ends up in the hospital. Wife sues for divorce.

The husband insists that the wife slapped him first (a common allegation whether true or not) and that the episode of “serious” abuse was an isolated incident. Wife, in the hospital with a skull fracture, has no grounds for divorce.

The bill gets worse. It mandates that the assertion of domestic violence “shall not be deemed credible in the absence of physical evidence or convincing testimony by parties unrelated to the spouses.”

Consider again what this means. The wife returns home from the hospital. The husband repeatedly threatens her, slaps her without leaving bruises, grabs her and holds her by the neck in front of the teenage children, and tells her in front of his mother and her sister that if she leaves him, she will never see the children again.

This woman has no grounds for divorce. Her testimony, however convincing, is deemed not to be “credible” as a matter of law. The testimony of the children, his mother and her sister (all relatives) do not matter.

The proposed legislation also makes it more difficult to protect children. Impressive empirical evidence demonstrates that exposing children to domestic abuse has lifelong negative consequences even if the abuse is directed only at the spouse.

In response to these studies, every state in the country has expanded the ability of the courts to take domestic violence into account in determining custody. This bill would undo the protections.

It provides that even if a spouse meets the act’s tough standards and proves domestic violence to the satisfaction of the court, “a protective order shall not deny the [abuser] parenting time if the petition for dissolution does not allege child abuse or neglect.”

In other words, if the husband cracks open his wife’s skull, but does not touch the children, he cannot be denied parenting time.

And the new definitions of child abuse are even harder to prove than spousal abuse. Punching and hitting children is not physical abuse unless it causes injury.

Moreover, if repeatedly striking a child causes injury only rarely, it is not abuse where it can be said to be an “infrequent” mistake or a manifestation of parental differences about appropriate discipline.

Yet, interfering with the other spouse’s parenting time because the children are terrified is emotional abuse, while threatening to kill a child becomes abuse only if it is “continuing and chronic.”

Finally, the bill punishes spouses who allege domestic abuse, but fail to prove it under these draconian standards.

To take only one example, the proposed legislation would threaten a spouse who alleges domestic violence with loss of custody if the court does not find in her favor, while a battering spouse who commits perjury is guaranteed continuing contact with the children unless he has been separately found guilty of child abuse.

Taken together, these measures provide a handbook on how to inflict domestic terror with impunity. The bill threatens all of us as it puts the cycle of violence that brutalizes parents and children outside of public view – until the violence tragically erupts in ways that are impossible to ignore.

June Carbone is the Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law Professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. She is the co-author of “Red Families v Blue Familes: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture” (Oxford 03/10). She lives in Kansas City.

Read more: http://voices.kansascity.com/node/8863#ixzz0mzfxoWyD

8 Responses to “Ugly Divorce Reform Bill Threatens Victims of Domestic Violence”

  1. One has to wonder what these legislators are doing at home to feel that such restrictions on evidence needed to be codified in law. Or perhaps the idea of equality in the marriage relationship is simply too frightening a concept for them.If I could add one item. Your examples suggest that domestic violence is always the male acting against the female. I can personally assure you that not only is it not, but that the occurances of female against male violence are quite under-reported, as police VERY often do not take claims of this seriously. In my case, over 25 such reports produced a single arrest, and the police were no more likely to act upon my claims after that arrest (and with a restraining order) than they were before the arrest. While typical size differences between men and women probably ON AVERAGE produce worse outcomes for female victims, I can also assure you that a woman blinded by schitzophrenic rage is a most potent weapon.

  2. Wow, I was shocked to read this so I went to see if I could find the bill – I did so quickly here:http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills101/biltxt/intro/HB1234I.htmI don't see anything that mentions "marital irresponsibility." It just looks like the bill is designed to make it harder to get a divorce if only one of the two parties wants it. In that case, the court must rule whether the marriage is "irretrievably broken". One of the criteria of that determination is whether "There is a showing based on the evidence presented at hearing that… The respondent has physically abused the petitioner or a child of the marriage or a child of one of the parties."It would appear that many of the claims made by Professor Carbone are inconsistent with the bill as shown in the above link.Just thought I'd point that out – obviously it isn't particularly related to the theme of this blog, but just caught my attention.

  3. Well, how else can the nullifiers and teabaggers in the Misery Legislature prove their commitment to the values and principles of the Founding Patriarchs?

  4. read the bill.http://www.house.mo.gov/billtracking/bills101/biltxt/intro/HB1234I.htm this post was filled with unnecessary hyperbole.look at 452.320.2.1.b:.2. If one of the parties has denied under oath or affirmation that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including the circumstances that gave rise to the filing of the petition and the prospect of reconciliation, and after hearing the evidence shall(.1) Make a finding whether or not the marriage is irretrievably broken, and in order for the court to find that the marriage is irretrievably broken, the petitioner shall satisfy the court of one or more of the following facts:(.a) That the respondent has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with the respondent;(.b) That the respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent;(.c) That the respondent has abandoned the petitioner for a continuous period of at least six months preceding the presentation of the petition;(.d) That the parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart by mutual consent for a continuous period of twelve months immediately preceding the filing of the petition;(.e) That the parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart for a continuous period of at least twenty-four months preceding the filing of the petition; ornow look at 3d:.3. For any dissolution of marriage judgment entered after August 28, 2010, if there is a child of the marriage who is less than twenty-one years of age, the court shall not enter a judgment of dissolution on the grounds that the marriage is irretrievably broken unless one of the following exists, which shall be pleaded generally:(.1) The parties mutually consent in writing that the marriage is irretrievably broken; or(.2) Two years have elapsed from the date of the filing of the petition for dissolution; or(.3) There is a showing based on the evidence presented at hearing that:(.a) The respondent has committed adultery; or(.b) The respondent has been convicted of a felony and has been sentenced to imprisonment of ten years or more; or(.c) Willful desertion of the petitioner by the respondent for more than one year; or(.d) The respondent has physically abused the petitioner or a child of the marriage or a child of one of the parties; or(.e) Mental incapacity of one of the parties; except that, no dissolution shall be granted unless the party alleging incapacitation has been adjudged incapacitated for a period of at least three years.

  5. Unilateral, no-fault, uncontestable divorce is available in most states. It means that one person can decide to make things better for themselves for ANY REASON, no matter how flimsy, even if it means making things worse for EVERYONE ELSE in a family, and do it all with the full and complete support of the law. Thus, the law in these states have made some forms of abuse easier to escape in exchange for making another form inescapable. That is a very sad thing with terrible consequences for the fabric of our society.

  6. I sincerely believe that domestic violence victims must be protected, irrespective of their gender. And I condemn anything that comes in its way. Thanks for sharing.

  7. That bill is really against the right of women and their children also. It makes me wonder what were they thinking while making these kinds of reform bills. Women and children must be treated well and they have much rights to be treated with respect than anyone else in the world. I believe that if that if they try to go to some injury lawyers, Ottawa has that kind of lawyers, they will really help those violated housewives.