Sarah Barrick, 33, has enough evidence of her estranged husband’s abuse to warrant a restraining order—including photos of bruises she claims she sustained when he shoved her “through a wall"—but not a divorce. That’s because Barrick lives in North Carolina, where any couple seeking to end their marriage, regardless of cause, must wait for a “cooling off” period of one year and one day from the date they separate.
This divorce purgatory has already taken a significant toll on Barrick. She continued paying for her husband’s health insurance (healthcare providers do not recognize separations or protection orders as changes in status) until she could no longer afford it. She lost health coverage when she needed it most, during a bout with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis that forced her to take medical leave. When she returned to work, she found that her husband, a former coworker who’d left the company, had been re-hired, even though Barrick’s employer has a record of her protection order. Knowing she could run into her abuser at the office at any time, she says, makes her sick.
In November, Barrick created a , State Attorney General Josh Stein, and the state’s General Assembly, asking them to amend the statute, G.S. 50-6, that requires would-be divorcees to wait more than a year.
“If there is proof and an order is in place, a victim should be able to file for divorce within 60 to 90 days,” Barrick writes. “I understand the concept, but this cookie-cutter divorce law is putting women like me—domestic violence survivors—through unnecessary hardship and trauma.”
Our requests for comment from the North Carolina Governor’s Office went unanswered, and Attorney General Klein was unable to respond by our publication deadline.
Barrick’s petition picked up steam late last week after media outlet published a video of her ordeal. So far, it has more than 65,000 signatures.
"Women who experience domestic violence and sexual assault often use online organizing as a means to share stories and push for policies that might otherwise go ignored,” said Change.org spokesman A.J. Walton in a statement. “That Sarah is using her voice to raise concerns about North Carolina’s divorce law—which is similar to laws in more than a dozen other states—speaks to her bravery and the power of turning tragedy into action, a petition into a movement. We’re encouraged by elected officials who have already expressed interest in supporting her efforts, and we look forward to seeing her lawmakers come together in a bipartisan fashion to protect survivors of domestic violence."
Still, Barrick faces an uphill battle. In 2015, North Carolina State Senator Jeff Jackson tried to upend G.S. 50-6 by proposing a bill to where one spouse was the victim. Two Republican Senators, both women, co-sponsored the bill. It didn’t even get a hearing in committee.
“If you are convicted of stabbing your wife she should not have to wait a year to divorce you. It is 100 percent indefensible for a woman to remain married to a man who is serving a prison sentence for violently assaulting her,” says Sen. Jackson.
North Carolina, like much of the South, is culturally conservative and has a history of bias against regulations that appear to threaten the marital bond. It was one of the last two states, along with Oklahoma, to recognize marital rape as a crime, in 1993.
Sen. Jackson modeled his bill after that made domestic abuse an exception to its waiting period and grounds for immediate divorce. “Louisiana passed several bills in response to a serious domestic violence problem in that state,” he says, noting the bar is even lower there—a felony conviction isn’t needed to prove abuse.
It’s unclear when the divorce waiting period became law in North Carolina, though we did find references to it from 1943, in a (back then it was two years), and in the summary of a .
North Carolina is one of 17 of six months or more. Illinois, Maryland, and Pennsylvania have the longest: 2 years if the divorce is not mutually consensual. (In Maryland's case, there's still a one-year wait for "mutual consent divorces.")
One can't help but draw a comparison between the Tar Heel state's failure to protect its victims of domestic violence and recent legislation in restrictive regimes like Russia, where last year, Russian president Vladimir that do not cause "substantial bodily harm" from a criminal charge to an administrative slap-on-the-wrist.
Barrick says her petition isn’t a personal attack on her estranged husband—she hid it from friends, many of whom she met through him, until recently—nor even about her individual case. “I want this for anybody in North Carolina who is in this situation,” she says. “My situation is nothing compared to what other people have gone through. I suffered mental and emotional abuse throughout our 10 years together but other people have had it 10 times worse.”
"Someone can literally be beaten to bloody pulp and have to remain married to their abuser for a year and a day," she adds. "It's wrong."
To learn more about Barrick's cause or sign her petition, visit .