Many couples and family lawyers find it odd that in some states you cannot get a divorce while pregnant. Missouri has one such law. Sure, you can still file for a dissolution of marriage while pregnant, but at least in Missouri, the court must wait until after birth to finalize child custody and child support. That law may change.
Show Me the Change
“It just doesn’t make sense in 2024,” said Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat representing District 14 in Platte County, Missouri. Aune introduced a bill this legislative session that essentially says pregnancy cannot prevent a judge from finalizing a divorce or separation. “I just want moms in difficult situations to get out if they need to,” she said.
Why do some states make expecting mothers wait? Some of the reasons include: resolving issues about paternity and establishing the father. Other states insist that adopting a visitation schedule over a newborn – before there’s a baby to even visit and the parents have established new residences – increases costs and judicial labor.
The same may be true in fixing the amount of child support. A court may want to avoid entering a child support order before there’s a child to support because, if parents lose or gain jobs, the support amount will have to be recalculated. Along the same lines, some children may be born with special needs. A court would want to know if the baby is born with an illness, disability, or other condition that requires extra parental attention or generates high doctor bills.
There are other reasons to hold off or prohibit finalizing a divorce. What if the mother has twins? Moreover, courts don’t have authority to make orders affecting unborn babies. Once a baby is born, it’s legally a person and a state resident.
Florida Divorce and Pregnancy
Being pregnant during a divorce adds a great deal of complexity to the process. The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.
I’ve written about divorce issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
There is no explicit prohibition against dissolving a marriage while a spouse is pregnant. If a spouse is pregnant, this fact must be included in the petition for dissolution of marriage when filed. While it is unlikely a court would dissolve a marriage before the child is born, there may be situations where a divorce can be granted. For example, a court could dissolve a marriage while a woman is pregnant if the husband is not the father to the child and the biological father is involved through establishing paternity and financial responsibility for the child.
A Legislative Touchdown?
So what changed in Missouri? During a committee hearing earlier this month, Aune said one woman shared a powerful testimony regarding an abusive situation she was in while pregnant:
“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 to hear that. She felt she had no options.”
A report from Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services states that out of 10,098 women surveyed between 2007 and 2014, nearly 5% were abused either before or during pregnancy. That equates to about 500 women.
Many feel a change in Missouri’s law could literally save lives. For example, 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.
The new bill in Missouri currently states:
“Pregnancy status shall not prevent the court from entering a judgment of dissolution of marriage or legal separation.”
However, the bill is still gestating in the Missouri legislature.
The Fox59 article is here.