When Was Divorce Made Legal in England
From April 2022, couples will be able to divorce without blaming each other. The new law, which allows no-fault divorce on their part, was initially announced by the UK government in February 2019 and received royal approval in June 2020. The Divorce, Dissolution and Legal Separation Act will change the dynamics of marriage in the UK. The new divorce law has five central areas of change: After World War I, there were reforms to the divorce law that made men and women more equal. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923 made adultery a ground for divorce for both spouses. Previously, only man had been able to do this; Women had to prove additional guilt.   Another 1937 statute (the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937) provided additional grounds for divorce: cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity.  The need for reform was illustrated in the bestselling satirical novel Holy Deadlock (1934). The Divorce Reform Act 1969 filed for divorce solely on the ground that the marriage had been irretrievably broken.
This could be demonstrated by one or more of the four “facts”, adultery by one of the parties; the conduct of the respondent in such a way that the applicant cannot reasonably be expected to live with them; desertion for two years; and separation for two or five years, depending on whether or not both parties agree to divorce. The law has also been the subject of heated debate, dubbed the “Casanova Charter” by critics, who have argued that it would allow men to marry every five years, leaving an “innocent” woman in a dangerous financial situation. The law was passed despite the controversy involved, and the number of divorces rose again after the amendments, with adultery and irrational behavior being used in particular to show an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Referring to the public reaction to the end of the relationship between the never-married Princess Margaret and the divorced Peter Townsend in 1955, The Independent wrote in 1995: “(This) can now be seen as a turning point in the nation`s attitude towards divorce.”  The lack of options for women did not mean that they had simply stopped trying. One of the reasons for annulment was the impossibility of consummating the marriage. The very ordeal of providing evidence – the woman was always subjected to the most intrusive physical examinations – was enough to frighten most women. But in 1561, Willmott Bury of Devon sought annulment on the grounds that her husband John was physically incapable of consummating the marriage. The examining midwives agreed that Ms.
Bury was a virgin, and a doctor testified that a kick from a horse left Mr. Bury with only a testicle the size of a small bean. The court duly annulled. Unfortunately, after his release from Willmott, John remarried and had a son. Things came to a head when the next person to inherit Bury`s estate questioned the validity of the annulment and tried to have the son declared illegitimate. The trial ultimately failed. It took almost 150 years for divorce to be formally introduced into English law. As you can imagine, it was not a particularly progressive piece of legislation.
Only men could file for divorce for adultery or life-threatening behavior. Once the divorce proceedings were completed, the man kept all the property, money and legitimate children. In addition, it required an Act of Parliament to divorce, which was costly so that only rich men could divorce. Although critics of no-fault divorces on their part have argued that facilitating divorce makes them more like a contractual arrangement, the changes to the law have been implemented. The new no-fault divorce system will come into effect on April 6, 2022. Parliament decided that the dissolution of the marriage existing in 1700 was within its competence. However, divorces are granted only in cases where the wife has committed adultery, unless the husband`s adulterous acts are aggravated “by life-threatening cruelty” such as incest. Between 1700 and 1749, only fourteen divorces were pronounced, which gradually increased, with 193 divorces concluded between 1800 and 1857. It was very expensive to get a divorce through parliament, and as such, it was usually only an option for the rich.
The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 transferred litigation from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts to the civil courts, established a model of marriage based on contract rather than sacrament, and extended the possibility of divorce beyond those who could afford to bring an action for annulment or promote a private bill. Dissatisfaction with the 1857 Act quickly arose, but it was not until after the First World War that the 1923 Matrimonial Causes Act made adultery by one party the sole ground for divorce. This was not only due to the increasing emancipation of women, but was also seen as an equalization of morality and aimed at preventing sin among men. The bill has been hotly debated, with arguments that it would lead to a state of “disguised polygamy and polyandry.” Separately, the law was passed, eliminating the double standards of previous laws. In 1937, the law was changed and divorce was allowed for other reasons, including drunkenness, insanity, and desertion. As a divorce and family law specialist, I have often heard clients complain about the divorce process. It`s too slow. It`s too expensive. It`s not fair.
The fact is, compared to a few hundred years ago, we don`t really know how lucky we are to have the legal framework for divorce that we have now. Even after the transfer of power to the courts rather than Parliament, access remained limited to the wealthy, and England`s divorce rate remained very low compared to countries like the United States. However, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1878 allowed women to obtain protection from abusive husbands, even if it was a judicial separation and not a divorce. In 1937, the Marital Causes Act made further amendments to the 1857 Act. Until 1937, people could divorce for adultery and cruelty, rape, bestiality or incest. The changes of the 1930s added cruelty, incurable insanity and desertion to the list of valid grounds for divorce. As with most assumptions, appearances can be deceiving. Henry`s marriage to Anne led to exactly one divorce – in 1552. The term was not used again until 1670.
While Protestant Europe began to embrace the idea that there could be legitimate reasons to end a marriage, England took a step backwards. Henry VIII`s new church not only opposed divorce in all circumstances, but also far surpassed Catholic Europe in restrictions on the granting of annulments. The liberal rules of consanguinity of cousinage, for example, which allowed even distant couples to separate, have been completely abolished. There were also other amazing differences. At that time, divorces were still heard publicly in open court. We tend to advise divorced couples to stay out of court to cut costs, but in the past there was clearly no choice, so divorce was reserved for the very wealthy. In addition, a married woman`s property automatically became her husband`s property, and after divorce, the children remained her father`s property. This meant that some mothers were prevented from seeing their offspring. Today, the law places a strong emphasis on co-parenting with the mother and father, who are supposed to play a role in the upbringing of children. So, at least in some respects, the law has come a long way. If you are considering separating, it is likely that you will file for divorce under the new laws.
If you want to know more about no-fault divorce on your part and how it works, KMJ Solicitors can help. At Cordell & Cordell, our divorce lawyers, we focus on representing men facing divorce and all other family law matters. We are committed to creating a level playing field in the UK family courts. Divorce in England and Wales is only possible for marriages of more than one year and if the marriage is irretrievably broken. Although it is possible to defend a divorce, the vast majority proceed defenseless. A divorce decree is first issued “nisi”, that is, (unless the reason is proved later) before it becomes “absolute”. In 2018, the problems of the current divorce system became national news with the case of Owens v Owens. When Tina Owens filed for divorce from her husband, he protested the divorce and the courts sided with him. The judge said the reasons for Tina Owen`s divorce were “exaggerated” and “fragile”. Tina Owens appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, but the appeal was dismissed under the law at the time. This decision meant that Tina Owens was forced to stay in an unhappy marriage until she could file for divorce on separation grounds after five years in 2020. It is hoped that these reforms will allow separated couples to divorce more amicably.
While these changes should make divorce easier, that doesn`t mean the divorce process will necessarily be quick. The process will usually take another six months or more if financial and practical arrangements need to be made. The introduction of the Children Act 1989 made it clear to the United Kingdom Family Courts that it was of the utmost importance to determine what was in the best interests of the child during divorce proceedings. But while the legislation is gender-neutral, many courts were not. In most cases, the family courts have decided to award custody to the mother. Take a look at Cordell & Cordell`s interactive version of our male divorce timeline. In English law, there is only one “ground for divorce”. That is, the marriage is irreparably broken. Here`s a rough look at undefended divorce proceedings from start to finish: It wasn`t until the Marriage Act of 1857 that ordinary people first allowed divorce.