Legislation Introduced to Create Civil Cause of Action for Malicious Interference with Ability to Remarry

On December 17, 2013, Councilmember Muriel Bowser and three other members of the D.C. Council introduced the Justice for Ex-Spouses Act of 2013 (B20-619) which, according to the legislation’s preamble, would “establish a civil cause of action for an individual whose former spouse has maliciously interfered with the individual’s ability to remarry.” The operative text of the legislation states, inter alia, that “[a] person who, following a civil divorce, maliciously interferes by act or omission with the ability of the person’s former spouse to remarry shall be liable to the former spouse for actual damages, including mental and emotional distress,” and “[t]he prevailing plaintiff shall also recover reasonable attorney’s fees.” The operative text of the legislation further states, inter alia, that it “shall apply to instances in which the alleged interference or omission is related to religious law or practice.” Additionally, the term “ability to remarry” is defined so as to include “the ability to remarry consistent with the plaintiff former spouse’s sincerely held religious beliefs.” The legislation is quite remarkable in that it appears intended, at least in part, to provide a civil remedy in the situation where a former spouse maliciously refuses to terminate a religious marriage to an individual who holds the sincere religious belief that termination of the religious marriage is a necessary predicate to remarriage. The legislation has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety.