The New HCIT

July 6, 2017 § Leave a comment

In case you hadn’t noticed, habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, the seventh ground for divorce in Mississippi, has undergone a change, effective July 1, 2017.

Here is how the language of § 93-5-1, MCA, now reads:

Seventh. Habitual Cruel and inhuman treatment, including spousal domestic abuse.

Spousal domestic abuse may be established through the reliable testimony of a single credible witness, who may be the injured party, and includes, but is not limited to:

That the injured party’s spouse attempted to cause, or purposely, knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to the injured party, or that the injured party’s spouse attempted by physical menace to put the injured party in fear of imminent serious bodily harm; or

That the injured party’s spouse engaged in a pattern of behavior against the injured party of threats or intimidation, emotional or verbal abuse, forced isolation, sexual extortion or sexual abuse, or stalking or aggravated stalking as defined in Section 97-3-107, if the pattern of behavior rises above the level of unkindness or rudeness or incompatibility or want of affection.

How will this play out? We’ll have to see how the appellate courts interpret it, of course. But several thoughts come to mind:

  • By removing the corroboration requirement and replacing it with the testimony of a single “reliable” witness, the statute essentially leaves it up to the chancellor to make a credibility determination as to that individual. Since determining the credibility of and the weight to be given a witness’s testimony is exclusively the province of the chancellor, it should be practically impossible to get the chancellor’s decision reversed on appeal.
  • Some judges, I am sure, will be quite ready to give credibility to any person claiming to be the injured party. In those courts, the parties will be back to where we were up to the early 1980’s when chancellors had the latitude to conclude even where the proof was weak that the parties clearly needed a divorce, so it was granted.
  • The statute went into effect July 1, 2017. I don’t know whether the new language can be amended into already-filed pleadings, or whether it applies only to complaints filed after July 1, or whether it applies only to conduct arising on or after July 1.
  • I personally like the addition of “forced isolation” and emotional and sexual abuse rising above unkindness, rudeness, or incompatibility. That specific language opens up some areas that perhaps have been murky in our case law. Still, I wonder whether the courts will require proof of adverse effect on the injured party. Stay tuned.

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