Terry McAuliffe Accuses Ken Cuccinelli of Trying to Make Divorce Harder for Women, and He’s Right

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 19 2013 12:55 PM

Terry McAuliffe Says Ken Cuccinelli Wanted to Make Divorce Harder for Women, and He’s Right

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If Ken Cuccinelli had his way, Virginia would be the only state without a no-fault divorce law.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Does Ken Cuccinelli have an anti-woman agenda when it comes to his position on divorce in Virginia? PolitiFact Virginia says no in an article denouncing Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Terry McAuliffe, for running an ad that accuses Ken Cuccinelli of trying to eliminate no-fault divorce. This is the claim PolitiFact deems "mostly false":

Amanda Marcotte Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

2008. Ken Cuccinelli writes a bill to give Virginia among the most extreme divorce laws in America.

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If Cuccinelli had it his way, a mom trying to get out of a bad marriage, over her husband’s objections, could only get divorced if she could prove adultery or physical abuse or her spouse had abandoned her or was sentenced to jail.

The problem with deeming this claim "mostly false": It's 100 percent true. As reported in the Huffington Post, when Cuccinelli was a state senator, he filed not one but two laws that were aimed at eliminating Virginia's no-fault divorce law—which would make Virginia the only state in the country not to have a law protecting its citizens’ ability to unilaterally end a marriage without giving a specific reason—though the legislation died in committee. PolitiFact admits that if Cuccinelli's bill had become law, that would indeed mean that it would be harder for people seeking divorce to get one over their spouse's objection. Last I checked, moms are people, making this ad indisputably true. 

Beyond that, McAuliffe's campaign is right to be suspicious of Cuccinelli's gendered intentions. It is true that Cuccinelli has been pointedly gender-neutral in his public statements about the bills, defending his attacks on no-fault divorce by saying, "This law has everything to do with the breakdown of the family. The state says marriage is so unimportant that if you just separate for a few months, you can basically nullify the marriage." No doubt that's how he'd like it to appear to female voters.

However, a deeper look suggests that his desire to eliminate no-fault divorce is about more than a gender-neutral concern for the "breakdown of the family." The bills Cuccinelli drafted were specifically about empowering spouses who resist the divorce. As the Washington Post reported, Cuccinelli has ties to the "fathers rights" movement, a group of men who agitate to give men more power over divorce proceedings. These groups supported Cuccinelli's bid to end no-fault divorce presumably because they saw it as a way to make it harder for women to end their marriages. 

Couples who mutually agree to divorce wouldn't have been touched by Cuccinelli's proposed law. It's just for the spouses who don't want the divorce. Unfortunately, when relationships are abusive, it's very often the case that the victim wants out but the abuser wants to hold it together. Even though there was technically an exception for abuse in Cuccinelli's bill, those victims—who are largely female—would have had to cobble together evidence that would be necessary to meet Cuccinelli's standards for the exception, a process that would require many to stay in the marriage and endure abuse while gathering proof. Cuccinelli may not see this as a problem, but McAuliffe is right to bring it to voters' attention.

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