Divorces are widely accepted today but in the 1800s they were relatively uncommon. The process of filing for divorce was much more difficult and complicated.
A brief history of divorce in the UK:
- Before 1857, divorce was mostly only available to men and had to be granted by an Act of Parliament, which made the process very expensive. Technically you were not permitted to remarry neither (unless your name was King Henry VIII!).
- In 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act meant people could divorce through the courts, which allowed ordinary people to file for divorce. You had to be able to prove that your spouse had committed adultery and a woman had to prove their husband had committed adultery plus incest, cruelty, bigamy, sodomy or desertion. It would have gone through an Open Court and only the High Court in London could grant a divorce
- In 1923, a private member's bill made it as easy for women and is was for men to file for divorce, solely on the grounds of adultery.
- In 1937, divorce was allowed on other grounds, such as drunkeness or desertion, but you could not file for divorce within the first three years of marriage.
- In 1969, the Divorce Reform Act was passed which enabled couples to divorce after being separated for two years, but fault did no longer have to be proved.
- In 1984, it was introduced that you could file for divorce after being married for one year instead of three years.
- Until 1996, men favoured better financially in a divorce. It was decided that assets should be divided more fairly and the contribution of the "homemaker" was better recognised.
The first time I came across a divorce record whilst researching my family history was a few weeks ago when researching a distant cousin's husband, Victor Rettich. As his name did not seem English I wanted to see if I could find any migration records for him initially, so I put the details that I had about him into the Ancestry search engine and flicked through the records that it brought up. The divorce case was one of the first records to show up so I had a nosey and found out some inspiring information about their family...
...firstly the documents included their marriage certificate.
|Marriage certificate of Emily Davidson & Victor Alexander Rettich (Click the image to enlarge)|
Victor was a lamp manufacturer, the son of a gentleman and Emily was the daughter of an engineer Henry Davidson (he was the brother of my great x3 grandfather). They married on the 30th June 1889 at which Emily's parents and elder brother were the witnesses to her marriage with Victor, so one would presume they were happy with the match.
Nearly four years later, Emily filed for divorce and below are the details...
|Details of case - page 1 (Click the image to enlarge)|
...the first page tells us details about their wedding date and the children they had together, Veneta Annie Octavia Rettich born 6th April 1890 and Victor Henry Albert Rettich born 11th August 1891 who died at three months old.
|Details of case - page 2 (Click the image to enlarge)|
The second page goes into details about her claim for divorce...
...Victor committed adultery with Georgiana Borritt and other women
...he was violent towards her
...he left her for days without any provisions and no money for buying food.
Emily wanted a dissolution of her marriage, custody of her child and maintenance for her and the child.
A divorce was eventually granted on the 3rd December 1894.
|The divorce papers|
It is a very interesting but upsetting read, as it shows much detail and insight into their family life.
Her divorce was one of just 369 granted in the UK in 1894, a rare event in comparison to 2010 when there were just under 120,000 divorces granted in the UK. (Reference: Guardian - Divorce rates)
Emily would have had to bring up her daughter as a single mother with the stigma of being a divorcee, not an easy thing to do in Victorian England.
Copyright © 2013 Ruth Hogan