Sunday, January 09, 2005

Want a Divorce in Washington? Don't Get Pregnant!

Shawnna J. Hughes, a Seattle woman, is being denied a divorce from her abusive husband because she’s pregnant by another man.

Superior Court Judge Paul A. Bastine actually granted Ms. Hughes a no-fault divorce, since her husband Carlos Hughes—currently incarcerated for domestic assault and drug charges—did not respond to her divorce petition. However, a week later, Bastine invalidated the divorce, citing legal issues involving paternity. He told Ms. Hughes, “Not only is it the policy of this court, it is the policy of the state that you cannot dissolve a marriage when one of the parties is pregnant.”

Not so, according to legal experts. There isn’t a law in Washington or any other state that prevents pregnant women from getting divorced. The law also provides for paternity issues to be settled separately from a divorce, despite Bastine’s ‘concerns’.

Ms. Hughes, who has a restraining order against her husband, has custody of their two children, ages 5 and 3. She says her six-year marriage to Carlos Hughes was "more like a prison than a marriage." Bastine, who retired on Friday, told Ms. Hughes, "You have created the situation by your own actions that delay your opportunity to dissolve your marriage.”

There's hope for Ms. Hughes, according to the LA Times:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Women's Law Center, an advocacy group in Seattle, have joined in Shawnna Hughes' appeal. If the ruling is upheld, they say, it not only amounts to discrimination but also could establish a perverse incentive for an abusive husband to get his wife pregnant in order to force her to stay married. And it could prompt some women to terminate their pregnancies to obtain a divorce.

"You can't use a woman's status as a pregnant person to discriminate against her," said Lisa Stone, executive director of the women's law center. "You simply can't say, well, everyone else in the state is entitled to get a divorce in a timely fashion, except this one group of people."

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