Missouri Lawmakers Examine Law That Bans Women From Divorce While Married

By Victor Winston, updated on March 1, 2024

Missouri takes a stand for pregnant women seeking divorce.

To address issues surrounding the divorce process for pregnant women, a Missouri lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at clarifying judges' ability to finalize these divorces, particularly emphasizing aiding victims of domestic violence.

The bill, introduced by Representative Ashley Aune, has sparked considerable debate. It underlines the complex interplay between the rights of pregnant women, and unborn children, and the mechanism through which family law is administered.

Current practices, often leaving pregnant women in a state of legal limbo, have raised questions about fairness and the potential for abuse within the system.

Clarifying the Law to Help Victims of Abuse

Public outcry has focused on the perception that existing legal procedures may unjustly bind women to abusive partners. This perception is not without foundation, as divorce lawyers note the contemplative approach to divorce during pregnancy often revolves around practical concerns like children's custody and support. However, the necessity for clear legal guidelines remains evident.

Rep. Ashley Aune highlighted the grim potential for abuse within the current system, stating:
If you can keep someone perpetually pregnant, it has devastating consequences. Life is different in 2024 and I’d like to see our policies keep up with the times.

Despite Missouri law not explicitly banning the finalization of divorces during pregnancy, it mandates the disclosure of the wife’s pregnancy, leading many judges to postpone decisions until after childbirth. This precaution, while pragmatic, fails to consider the urgent needs of those trapped in harmful relationships.

Legislative Support and Opposition

The legislative journey of this bill has been one of collaboration yet faces an uncertain future in a predominantly GOP-controlled legislature. Representative Aune's initiative, inspired by domestic violence victim support groups, has received bipartisan backing, signaling a wide acknowledgment of the issue's gravity.

During a committee hearing in February, the bill attracted unanimous support from testimonies, reflecting a collective desire to amend the status quo. Advocates and supporters argue that the proposed changes will significantly lessen barriers for women seeking to escape abusive marriages, providing a more straightforward path to safety and autonomy.

The debate encapsulates broader concerns within family law, particularly regarding the equitable alignment of parents' responsibilities towards their unborn child. Texas, like Missouri, reflects this cautious stance, with judges typically delaying divorce proceedings until after a child's birth to address custody and support comprehensively.

Testimonies Highlight the Need for Change

Further complicating the issue is the existing backlog in family law courts, which disincentivizes the reopening of divorce cases post-birth. In suggesting protective orders as interim solutions, legal practitioners underscore their commitment to victims' immediate safety while acknowledging the systemic constraints.

Julie Donelon, supporting the bill, said that the restriction on divorce during pregnancy "creates an unnecessary obstacle and delays a woman’s ability to leave an abusive relationship.” This sentiment resonates with many looking for reform, emphasizing the need for legislative adaptations to contemporary societal dynamics.

Representative Bill Hardwick, who leads the House Emerging Issues Committee to which Aune's bill has been allocated, expressed his openness to considering the legislation. However, he remains uncertain about whether it will proceed to a vote.

Hardwick acknowledged that the concepts in the bill represent uncharted territory for some members of the judiciary and legal profession and emphasized the need for thoughtful deliberation on the matter.

Conclusion

Missouri is addressing the challenge pregnant women face in obtaining a divorce, particularly when domestic violence is involved, with a new bill introduced by Representative Ashley Aune that simplifies the process. The proposed legislation has received bipartisan support despite the uncertain fate in the GOP-majority legislature, highlighting the need for legal clarity in these sensitive cases.

While the bill is supported for its potential to help victims escape abusive relationships, lawmakers like Representative Bill Hardwick call for careful consideration before deciding on its passage.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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