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Woman Tries to Remove Waiting Period for Spouses Divorcing Due to Domestic Violence

In North Carolina, a law that imposes a cooling off period can present a difficult problem if one spouse is being battered. Recently, Woman’s Day ran a piece about domestic violence and the difficulties of being an abused spouse who needs to get a North Carolina divorce. The article led off with the story of a 33-year-old woman who had enough proof of her estranged spouse’s violence to warrant getting a restraining order. Her proof included bruises. Yet, because she lives in North Carolina, she was subject to the state’s cooling off period of one year and one day from the date of separation before obtaining a divorce.

During the year and day, she had to keep paying for her husband’s health insurance until she couldn’t afford it. She suffered various health problems and needed a medical leave, during which time she lost her health coverage. When she returned to the job, she discovered that her spouse (who was also a former coworker) had been rehired, even though she had a protection order against him — and her employer was aware of it.

In November, she petitioned the governor, state attorney general, and the North Carolina General Assembly via Change.org, requesting an amendment to G.S. 50-6. This is the law that requires a cooling off period. In her petition she argued that if there is proof and an order, the victim should be able to file for divorce within 60-90 days because the existing law puts survivors of domestic abuse through unnecessary trauma and difficulty.

The petition garnered more than 65,000 signatures. A.J. Walton, a spokesman for Change.org, stated that women who suffer from sexual assault or domestic violence often organize online in order to share their tales and ask for alterations in policy. Walton noted the petitioner’s bravery in trying to transform suffering into positive action. Some elected officials expressed that they were interested in supporting her.

In 2015, Senator Jeff Jackson proposed a bill to get rid of the one-year cooling off period in the case of felony conviction of one spouse, but it didn’t even get a hearing in committee. He’d modeled the bill after a 2014 law from another state that made domestic abuse an exception to its waiting period, allowing victims to obtain an immediate divorce. The senator noted that if someone is convicted of stabbing his wife, the wife shouldn’t have to wait a year for a divorce.

The article also commented that North Carolina is culturally conservative and, in 1993, was one of the last two states to recognize marital rape as a crime. It is one of 17 states that has a waiting period of at least six months. States with two-year waiting periods for divorces that aren’t mutually consented-to are Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Illinois.

The magazine noted that there are comparisons to be drawn between North Carolina’s failure to protect domestic violence victims and laws in places like Russia, where President Putin approved a law that reduced domestic assaults that don’t cause substantial bodily harm from a crime to an administrative infraction.

The petitioner explained that she hid the petition from friends and that it wasn’t a personal attack on her spouse or about her individual circumstances. Rather, she wants the law for anyone who has to suffer from domestic violence at the hands of their spouse.

North Carolina divorces can be especially challenging when there are domestic violence issues involved.  If you are hoping to get a divorce, you should consult skillful family law attorneys. Contact the Woodruff Family Law Group at 336.272.9122 or via our online form.

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