If a woman is pregnant and a victim of domestic violence, she cannot get a divorce in Missouri.

Just as you read it. In this state, judges do not sanction divorce petitions if the woman is still pregnant.

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Many people were unaware of the existence of this legislation. At least until Missouri State Representative Ashley Aune called attention to the impact it has on the lives of many women who are victims of domestic violence.

An ‘archaic loophole’ that targets pregnant women

The United States is a country that fills its mouth, saying it is the “leader of the free world” and the epitome of the “first world.” However, the laws that are actually on paper speak to another reality.

Missouri’s law has been in place since 1973, and the state amended it in 2016. Rep. Aune introduced legislation earlier this month that would undo what she called an “archaic loophole.”

Speaking to Fox4KC, Aune said, “I just want moms in difficult situations to get out if they need to. This is something that was brought to me by folks in my community who shared that it was a huge problem.”

In a committee meeting, she shared the story of a woman affected by the existing law. She said, “Not only was she being physically and emotionally abused, but there was reproduction coercion used. When she found out she was pregnant and asked a lawyer if she could get a divorce, she was essentially told no. It was so demoralizing for her. It was so demoralizing for her to hear that. She felt she had no options.”

Changing the law could ‘literally save lives’

Aune learned about the law through Synergy Services, which provides services to survivors of domestic violence.

Sara Brammer, the group’s vice president of domestic violence, told The Kansas City Star that the law “puts families in a bad position.” Dragging out the separation process puts abuse victims in hazardous positions.

Matthew Huffman, who works for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, told Fox4KC that Aune’s legislation “could literally save lives. For abusive partners, they might be using reproductive coercion and control to keep their partner pregnant so that they can’t ever actually be granted a divorce.”

For her part, Aune also highlighted the paradox that exists in the state of Missouri, which has effectively banned all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

“In a state where we are currently forcing women to carry babies to term, I think it’s important that, you know, women who are in that position who are also looking to get out of a marriage have the capacity to do so,” she said.

However, Missouri is not the only state that prohibits pregnant women from getting a divorce

While Aune is fighting to correct decades of backward-looking legislation in Missouri, other states have similar legal measures.

Newsweek explained that similar laws exist in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Texas. Similarly, in Alabama, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming, judges are likely to force couples to wait until the baby is born before allowing divorce.

In states that prohibit it, couples can file for divorce while one spouse is expecting a baby. However, they “must wait until the baby is born for it to be finalized,” Newsweek explained.

Arkansas law presumes the husband of the pregnant woman to be the father of the child. If this is not the case, the father must challenge the presumption before a judge grants the divorce. Arizona also requires the husband to disestablish paternity if he is not the father of the child, with an Affidavit of Renunciation of Paternity.

In Texas, the couple must include custody and support orders in the final divorce decree if the husband is the father of the child. If he is not, they must establish paternity after the baby is born. 

Similarly, California waits to finalize a divorce until after the baby is born to establish paternity for the child. The state already has a mandatory six-month waiting period for all divorces, which would cover much of the pregnancy.

Before the baby is born, the judges cannot make a custody and child support order. Courts in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Texas will not finalize a divorce until they can address all of these child support, child custody, and paternity issues.

Simply put, the law protects the father’s rights first, even if the mother is a victim of domestic violence.