A brief history of divorce

Men have wanted to leave their wives and women their husbands through divorce ever since the idea of marriage developed in early times.  Then it was as much about social and economic stability as love and desire.

The function of marriage has changed in emphasis whereas the ease with which a divorce can be granted has changed beyond recognition.  The reasons for granting a divorce have also changed enormously over the centuries.  We now have a simple set of ‘rules' which have the effect of giving divorce on demand.  The lawyer's role is to argue your case on behalf of you and your children and the splitting of the family assets.  

The celebrated pioneer of divorce, Henry VIII had enormous difficulty in divorcing Catherine of Aragon and in the process split Christendom asunder and altered the course of European history forever.  His reason for divorcing Catherine of Aragon was that she was his brother Arthur's widow.  Having begun to blaze a trail he did it again with Ann Boleyn on the grounds of his previous relationship with her sister Mary.

painting of a wedding by Van_Eyke.jpgFortuneatly we do not have to go to such lengths nowadays.  The reasons for divorce are now greatly simplified.  Probably the best divorce advice is to go with ‘unreasonable behaviour.'  You will not have to prove any allegations you make about your spouse's behaviour and the Courts are not interested whether they are true or not.

Now back to the history.  The next milestone is Lord Roos's divorce on the grounds of adultery in 1670.  Then the procedure for divorce in English law was for the husband to bring an action for "criminal conversation" to establish his wife's adultery, then he obtained a divorce from the church and then finally he had to petition the House of Lords to grant the divorce.  Still a long process and still controlled by the Church

In 1853 a Royal Commission made recommendations to improve the procedure of getting a divorce.  In 1857 the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, based in London, was established which made divorce a civil rather than a religious matter.  Men could obtain divorce for adultery, but women had to prove cruelty or desertion, in addition to their husband's adultery.  It was not until 1923 that women were allowed to use the same grounds for divorce as men.

The final democratisation of divorce came in 1969 when after a great deal of controversy 'irretrievable breakdown' on the basis of one of five grounds for divorce became the test.

In the beginning to get a divorce it was a good idea to be a powerful king, with clever lawyers and the Archbishop of Canterbury batting on your side.  Today you need just one of these, a good lawyer.

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