Divorce History of divorce

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Divorce History of divorce


  • The legal termination of marriage
  • Under English law, the basis for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage
  • The official request to a court to end a marriage is called divorce petition
  • Petitioner - respondent

History of divorce law in UK

  • Prior to 1857 church courts determined the law on divorce: although nullity decrees could be made, divorce was not available through courts
  • The only form of divorce – by an Act of Parliament – a hugely expensive procedure open only to the wealthy and to husbands
  • Marriages of the poor – ended in the husbands (less often wives) deserting, and even in wife-sales, a practice believed by the rural poor to terminate marriage (T. Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge)


  • Matrimonial causes Act 1857 – created an alternative to divorce by an Act of Parliament: a procedure through the courts
  • Discrimination: Difference between the grounds available to husband and wife, e.g. a husband could rely on his wife’s adultery, but a wife could rely on a husband’s adultery only if there were aggravating circumstances (incest, ‘unnatural offences’: bigamy, rape, sodomy)


  • Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 put husband and wife in the same position (adultery grounds)
  • Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 extended the grounds to include cruelty, desertion or incurable insanity


  • Before 1973 (fault divorce) Matrimonial Causes Act the petitioner was required to present in open court evidence to support the grounds set out in the petition, by introducing witnesses if necessary – expensive, embarassing, stressful
  • 1969 Divorce Reform Act introduced irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the only ground for divorce (no-fault divorce)


  • 1973 Matrimonial causes Act
  • A special procedure introduced for undefended divorces: the petitioner had to lodge the petition outlining the grounds for divorce, a statement concerning arrangements for the children and an affidavit confirming the truth of these documents

Property: (a joke)

  • A wealthy businessman asks his wife what she would like for her birthday: ‘a car, jewellery, perhaps?” She replies: „Honey, I want a divorce” „Hell, I can’t afford that”, comes the shocked reply

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