divorce law

divorce law
   Before 1857, marriage was ‘for life’ in the sense that a divorce could only be granted through Church courts and confirmed by a special act of Parliament. Divorce was for the rich and privileged, usually on the grounds of the husband’s cruelty or the wife’s adultery (no divorce was granted for a husband’s adultery until 1801). After 1857, divorces were granted by secular courts and desertion was added as reasonable grounds (to be followed by ‘unsoundness of mind’ in 1938). More recently, in the 1969 Divorce Reform Act, the introduction of ‘marital breakdown’ as grounds for divorce has removed the elements of guilty and injured party, and since then the number of annual divorces has more than doubled. Divorce rates in Britain at the millennium are the highest in Europe, approaching 40 percent of first marriages, even though weddings are proving nearly as popular as ever.
   See also: marriage; single parents

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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