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Missouri, Arkansas, Texas bar finalizing divorce while pregnant | Fact check

Corrections & Clarifications: This story and headline were updated March 6 to clarify that Arizona has no legal prohibition on divorce during pregnancy, though as a matter of practice, it isn't typically done. The rating on this claim has been updated from True to Partly false.

The claim: Divorces cannot be finalized in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas or Arizona while a woman is pregnant

A Feb. 26 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) includes a picture of what appears to be a pregnant woman’s belly and a stethoscope.

“As it stands, Missouri judges cannot legally finalize a divorce if a woman is pregnant,” reads part of the post's caption. “Three other states have similar laws: Texas, Arizona, and Arkansas.”

The post was liked more than 10,000 times in a day.

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Our rating: Partly false

Laws in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas say judges can't finalize divorces while a woman is pregnant, according to attorneys practicing family law there. In Arizona, divorces are typically not granted while a spouse is pregnant, but there is no prohibition against doing so in state law, experts say. In all of the states, a married couple can file for divorce at any time and take steps in the process before then.

Laws, demands on court lead to delays before approving child support, custody agreements

Courts in Missouri, Arkansas and Texas cannot grant a divorce if the wife is pregnant, according to the American Pregnancy Association, which identifies itself as a non-profit anti-abortion organization.

Those states require a determination of paternity after a baby is born before child-related orders, such as child support and custody, will be issued, according to the group.

A 1973 Missouri 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 issue final orders in the divorce until the pregnancy is finished, according to a Kansas City Star analysis of the issue. A bill introduced in January by state Rep. Ashley Aune 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 abused and could face financial challenges living separately from their spouse without court-ordered financial support.

A divorcing couple 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.

Arkansas and Texas delay finalizing divorces for similar reasons.

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

In Arkansas, the delay is in place in part because of the extra work involved with modifying orders after the baby is born, according to a post by Kevin Hickey, a family law attorney. Couples can negotiate orders for children they already have, along with property division and spousal support, and they can also start working toward a requirement to live apart for 18 months to get a no-fault divorce. Any questions of paternity must also be resolved before the divorce can be finalized.

Texas similarly bars divorce while pregnant, but the law does allow for temporary orders to be put in place for support and visitation of previous children, according to a post from Benson Varghese, the founder of a Texas law firm with a family practice. The courts do not have jurisdiction over children until they are born, and can therefore make no decisions on issues such as child support, child custody or even paternity, the post states.

But Arizona does not have a delay codified in law, according to Barbara Atwood, co-director of the Family and Juvenile Law Certificate Program at the University of Arizona.

Nevertheless, divorces aren't typically finalized during pregnancy to simplify the process of creating orders on child support, parenting time and decision-making, said Judie Rettelle, an attorney at Phoenix law firm Colburn Hintze Maletta. She told USA TODAY the financial cost and time needed to move new cases forward and the resulting delays in establishing paternity and child-related orders effectively keep judges from finalizing divorces while a spouse is pregnant. In more than 20 years practicing family law, she said she hasn't seen a divorce finalized before a child is born.

Atwood and Ken Fields, a retired state judge who worked in family court three decades ago, also said they didn't recall a case where a divorce was finalized during a pregnancy. Rettelle and Fields also said they aren't aware of any explicit ban in state statute, however.

Retelle also stressed that a spouse does not have to stay in an abusive situation while waiting for the divorce to be finalized. Protective orders and other measures can be issued to get away from domestic violence while the divorce is pending.

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: Pregnant women cannot finalize divorces in some states | Fact check