Domestic violence law starts July 1

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Advocates for battered women and abused spouses will see some changes in Mississippi’s domestic violence law on July 1.

The law is the first rewrite of the domestic violence statute since the Mississippi Protection from Domestic Abuse Act was enacted in 1981. The law had undergone some changes over the years, but a commission appointed by the Mississippi Supreme Court urged lawmakers to take a more thorough look.

The law doesn’t do everything the commission wanted, but it is an important step.

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The commission targeted certain areas of the 1981 law — lack of adequate access of victims to the courts, lack of uniformity in proceedings and pleadings, and confusion in the interaction between the courts having jurisdiction in domestic abuse proceedings.

Previously, Mississippi law provided that a victim of domestic abuse could obtain a protection order from five different levels of the court system: municipal, justice court, county, circuit or chancery. The new law removes the circuit court from the mix.

The intent of allowing multiple courts to have jurisdiction was to increase access to protection for victims. However, advocates said it created more confusion for the victims and the courts.

Anna Walker Crump, executive director of Mississippi Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the new law shows the continued sensitivity of legislators toward domestic violence issues.

“Anything that helps to make the legal process more available to domestic violence victims and having their cases go more efficiently through the legal system is a great benefit,” Crump said.

The new law provides that petitions for domestic abuse protection orders that include a request for emergency relief can be filed in municipal, justice or county courts.

The effective date for temporary domestic abuse protection is 10 days or until a hearing is held. It could be extended for another 20 days if a hearing is continued.

The law puts a limit of 180 days on temporary custody, visitation and support provisions contained in final protective orders. Currently there is no time limitation.

The new law doesn’t address the issue of venue, and the commission didn’t come with a specific recommendation.

Victims of domestic violence under current law must file for a protective order in a court in the county where the abuse occurred or where the person accused of doing the abuse may be found. The commission said its concern was for victims who flee their home counties out of fear of their abuser.

The new law doesn’t address the commission’s concerns about victims of domestic violence who go into the courts without any legal assistance.

While it didn’t make a specific recommendation, the commission said there are only three civil legal clinics to assist victims of domestic violence with their legal needs, ranging from obtaining orders of protection to divorces to custody matters.

“In many counties, particularly in the more rural areas of the state, access to a court is a real concern for many victims. The fact that different areas of the state have different resources available for victims of domestic abuse complicates this situation.

“A victim who lives in a jurisdiction in which there is a domestic violence program who can assist him or her and in which there are judges available every day of the week is likely to have a much better chance of obtaining protection than a victim who does not live in a jurisdiction where an advocacy program is nearby or where the courts may not be available every day,” the commission said.