The History of Divorce in England and Wales Vardags
Henry VIII divorces Catherine of Aragon, breaking with Rome and establishing the supremacy of the monarchy over the church in England. Divorce becomes a matter to be dealt with under English law.
16th to 19th Centuries
Divorce cases governed by the jurisdiction of the Court of Arches and canon law. Divorce is only possible under a complex process of annulment or an act of parliament, restricting it to the very wealthy.
Novelist Caroline Norton becomes a cause celebre as her husband denies her access to her earnings from her own writing and from seeing her children. Pressure begins to build for divorce reform.
The Matrimonial Causes Act transfers jurisdiction to the civil courts, widening access to divorce. The act was deliberately discriminatory against women.
A man could seek a divorce on the basis of his wife’s adultery. A wife could petition only the basis of cruelty, or adultery combined with incest, cruelty, bigamy, or desertion.
Married Women’s Property Act allows women to own their own property after marriage.
Matrimonial Causes Act grants men and women equal access to divorce laws. Petitions can be issued on the grounds of adultery, desertion or severe mental illness.
11 day hearing into the Duchess of Argyll’s adultery with the Headless Man causes a society scandal.
Current Matrimonial Causes Act becomes law. Introduces unreasonable behaviour as a fact supporting the grounds for divorce.
Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 reduces the time a marriage has to last before divorce from three years to one year.
Family Law Act legislates for no-fault divorce, but the law never comes into force.
White v White in the House of Lords establishes principle of equal sharing of matrimonial wealth as the starting point for financial remedies.
Radmacher v Granatino makes prenups enforceable in English law for the first time.