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Kentucky Law Requiring Abused Spouse to Pay for Abuser’s Divorce Attorney Abolished

The Kentucky legislature has closed a loophole in a statute that required a victim of domestic violence to pay the cost of an attorney for their incarcerated abuser when seeking a divorce.

Kentucky law requires a person suing a prisoner to cover the cost of their attorney when the prisoner is considered indigent. That legal provision has been applied in divorce cases.

Jeanette McCue’s husband severely abused her. “My husband decided to beat me black and blue,” she told the state Senate Judiciary Committee. “He put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger. Thank God, I’m here.” He missed, she said, because he was too drunk to aim.

Her husband was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. “In the process of trying to get divorced, I was told, ‘Ma’am, you’re going to have to pay for his attorney,’” McCue stated. “That was a smack in the face.”

It also was a financial hardship, as her husband had cleaned out their bank account. McCue’s lawyer, Cassie Chambers with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, helped McCue file for divorce and came across two other cases in which women suffered domestic violence and were forced to pay for attorneys when trying to divorce their incarcerated, abusive husbands.

“It’s like he was still in control, getting the court system to work for him and against her,” Chambers said. “Some may go back to an abuser. I think there’s a lot of ways the courts put barriers in the way of poor people who just don’t have access to resources.”

Chambers was compelled to write an opinion piece about the issue that was published in the Lexington Herald-Leader. It caught the eye of state Senator Morgan McGarvey, who sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 68, that closed the loophole by requiring the state to pay for lawyers in divorce cases in which a prisoner abused his or her spouse.

“I read it and couldn’t believe it,” said Senator McGarvey. “This is the kind of problem we want to fix.”

He added, “When those people are sitting in jail, after having been convicted of, or pled guilty to abusing them, when the victim files for divorce, having to pay their abuser’s legal fees, is like getting abused again.”

The bill was signed into law by Governor Matt Bevin on March 27, 2018. 

Sources: Louisville Courier-Journal,,

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