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Missouri law prohibiting divorce while pregnant is not new. It's from 1973. | Fact check

The claim: Missouri ‘just made it illegal’ to get divorced while pregnant

A Feb. 26 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) makes several statements about a restriction on finalizing divorces in Missouri.

“Missouri has just made it illegal for women to divorce their husbands while they are pregnant – even in cases of domestic abuse,” the post reads in part. “And it is not the only state with laws like these. Do you know what a woman can't get until an official divorce decree has been handed down? Child support.”

The post was liked more than 3,000 times in two days.

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Our rating: Partly false

The post is correct that Missouri prevents pregnant women from having their divorces finalized, but the law is not new. The restriction has been on the books since 1973.

Missouri law delaying divorce finalization dates back five decades

Missouri is among several states that do not allow divorces to be finalized while a spouse is pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association, which identifies itself as an anti-abortion nonprofit. But those delays are not due to a new law or regulation.

As USA TODAY previously reported, Missouri law has prohibited divorces from being finalized while a spouse is pregnant since 1973. The text of the law explicitly requires a divorcing couple to address “whether the wife is pregnant" in a filing, and also requires "any arrangements for the custody and support of the children" to be part of the divorce agreement.

Judges have taken that to mean they can't sign final orders in the divorce until the pregnancy is over, according to a Kansas City Star analysis of the issue.

The latest legislative action is an attempt to end this requirement, not to create it. A bill introduced in the Missouri legislature in January seeks to remove the restriction on divorcing while pregnant. Opponents of the current law say it can create a dangerous situation for women who have been or could be abused, as the financial challenges of living separately from their spouse without court-ordered financial support can make it difficult to leave. The issue gained more attention after the 2022 Dobbs ruling by the Supreme Court, which held there was no constitutional right to an abortion, meaning the procedure was banned under Missouri law.

Fact check: Texas abortion laws specify no charges for the woman seeking an abortion

While the wife is pregnant, a divorcing couple in Missouri can settle other issues such as custody and financial support for previous children, asset and debt division and preliminary agreements on issues relating to the new baby, according to a post from Mark Wortman, a family law attorney in Kansas City.

Doug Fredrick, another family law attorney in Missouri, told the Springfield News-Leader that the restriction exists because the law requires financial support and custodial agreements for each child of a marriage to be part of the finalized divorce. Each of those agreements requires paternity to be determined by the court. Each child is technically a party to such a case, but an unborn child cannot be a party to a court case, Fredrick said.

Both Fredrick and Wortman stressed that a pregnant woman does not legally have to live with her husband, although advocates say leaving can be exceedingly difficult. Options such as protective orders can keep an abuser away, according to a guide on the Missouri Courts website.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Missouri ban on pregnant women divorcing dates to 1973 | Fact check