Appeals Court OKs Divorce for Herpes

     JACKSON, Miss. (CN) — In its first published opinion of its kind, a Mississippi appeals court ruled that a woman who says her husband gave her herpes can divorce under the state’s habitual cruel and inhuman treatment law.
     The trial court granted the divorce of Gene and Rebecca Farris in 2015, finding that “each and every time [Gene] engaged in unprotected sex with [Becky] during the course of their marriage he was committing a continuous systematic cruel act upon her.”
     Rebecca Farris testified that she contracted herpes “at some point during the marriage,” and that her ex-husband admitted he had the sexually transmitted disease only after she revealed her positive status.
     The couple wed in 2006 and separated in 2012. Both had been previously married. Gene Farris said he never was tested for herpes, but that his ex-wife from the 1990s told him she had it.
     He argued that there is no evidence to corroborate his ex-wife’s claim that he gave her herpes, and insisted that the record is devoid of proof that the disease made it impossible for the marriage to continue.
     Writing for the appeals court’s three-judge panel, Judge Jack L. Wilson found that exposing one’s spouse to a sexually transmitted disease may be a form of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment, and that “Gene’s own admissions are sufficient corroboration.”
     “Gene admitted that his first wife told him that she had herpes. Despite this, Gene never told Becky that he might have herpes until she told him that she had contracted the disease,” Wilson wrote in the Oct. 4 ruling.
     “Given Gene’s own admissions, we cannot say that the chancellor’s factual findings were clearly erroneous or that she erred in granting a divorce on this ground.”
     In Mississippi, a party seeking divorce for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment must prove that the conduct either “endangers life, limb, or health,” or “is so ‘unnatural and infamous’ as to render the marriage revolting to the non-offending spouse, making ‘it impossible to carry out the duties of the marriage.'”
     The court acknowledged that such a divorce finding is rare: “There is no published Mississippi case affirming a finding of habitual cruel and inhuman treatment based on exposure of one spouse to a sexually transmitted disease.”
     A 2004 ruling found no credible evidence that the husband infected the wife with herpes, and because she had knowingly married her husband believing he’d infected her with herpes, she could not “later claim that such infection [was] grounds for habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” (Brackets in ruling.)
     The appeals court cited other rulings dating back decades from courts across the nation that have held that exposing a spouse to an STD may be grounds for divorce.
     “We do not believe that knowingly exposing one’s spouse to an STD is any less cruel today,” the judge wrote.
     The court also ruled that alimony was properly awarded to Rebecca Farris, but that she failed to prove that the prenuptial agreement was invalid.

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