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Maryland Proposes Quick Divorces for Domestic Violence Victims

Maryland state officials are proposing a bill that would allow victims of domestic violence to bypass a law requiring couples to wait a year before they can file for divorce. Present legislation already allows a spouse that can prove adultery to obtain a quick divorce. The bill would include proof of “cruelty of treatment” and “excessively vicious conduct” as justification for a speedy divorce process.

Testifying during a hearing for the bill, a Easton, MD nurse stated, “My husband repeatedly kicked me with his foot, punched me with his closed fist, slapped me with an open hand …. This man took 23 years of my life and has gotten over 1 1/2 years because of the process involved in getting a divorce.” Supporters include Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) and Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D). According to Townsend, a victim of domestic violence is three times more likely to be beaten during a separation than after the divorce.

The legislation is part of five recommendations made by the Family Violence Council, created by Townsend and Curran to investigate domestic violence issues in Maryland.

Critics of the bill worry that allowing for speedy divorce could turn Maryland into a “divorce mill,” and that victims may falsely charge their spouse to end the marriage. Sen. Larry E. Haines (R) commented, “Let’s say if it’s a woman who wants out of the marriage. She could beat her head against a wall. It would be difficult to prove.”

State officials in New Jersey have proposed a law that would make it more difficult for all couples to get a divorce. The Parents Education Act would charge a couple $25 and require the couple to take a course on divorce issues, separation and custody of the children.

Domestic Violence Information Center

Sources:

Reuters, Washington Post - March 6, 1998