The History of Divorce

The History of Divorce Find more genealogy blogs at FamilyTree.comThere was a time when divorce was considered to be a scandal. Over the years, there have been different laws regarding divorce. The history of divorce is filled with interesting stories!

The most well known divorce in history involved King Henry VIII who decided that he no longer wanted to be married to his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry felt that Catherine had failed to provide him with a male heir, and he wanted to marry Anne Boelyn.

After failing to force the pope to grant an annulment of his marriage, Henry decided to completely break with Rome. In 1533, King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England – and promptly gave himself the annulment that the pope would not.

He married Anne Boleyn, and ended up “divorcing” her in 1552, about three years after they got married. The couple suffered a stillbirth of a male heir. Anne was eventually convicted of treason, adultery, and incest and Henry had her beheaded. He quickly got an annulment before she was killed.

In 1857, English Parliament voted a divorce law through both houses, and this resulted in 324 divorce cases. Only four were brought by women. To get a divorce, a husband had to prove that adultery had occurred. For a wife to get a divorce, she had to not only prove adultery, but also that some other awful circumstance had occurred. The law did not consider brutality, rape, desertion, or financial chicanery to count.

In 1629, the Colony of Massachusetts Bay created a judicial tribunal that dealt with divorce matters. The tribunal could grant a divorce on the basis of adultery, desertion, bigamy, and (in many cases) impotence.

The first divorce in the American colonies was granted to Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1643. Her husband, Denis Clarke, abandoned Anne and their two children so he could be with another women (whom he also had two children with). Anne was granted a divorce after Denis refused to go back to her.

Starting at the end of the 18th century, the concept of “divorce mills” appeared. Certain states, including Indiana, Utah, North Dakota, and South Dakota, were known as places where people could go and get a divorce. Many couples went to Reno, Nevada, which held the title of “The Divorce Capital of the World” for six decades.

Trial marriages were established in 1920, which basically involved a couple living together without any lifelong financial commitments attached to it. In the 1950’s, the Family Court system was established. It enabled judges to ratify agreements between couples for a divorce that had been crafted beforehand.

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the law changed to allow for “no fault divorces”. A divorce could now be legally granted if neither party was “at fault”.

Image by Steven Tom on Flickr.

Related Articles at

* Divorce Records in the States

* Shocking Things to Learn About Your Ancestors

* Sending For Birth-Marriage-Death Records

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