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Did Divorce Use To Be Illegal?

Did Divorce Use To Be Illegal

To say the least, Utah Divorce Law has really come a long way. Being the state with the highest divorce rates in the whole of US, it pays to know how this came to be. Among the many questions you may be having is this:

Was divorce illegal in the past?

As we get back down the memory lane, I have to admit that the subject of divorce has been sensitive through the years, and still is. This might be one of the reasons the laws regarding divorce have constantly evolved and are still being amended day after day.

Not only the law has changed, but also the attitude of the citizens towards divorce. Whereas it was once a forbidden practice, right now as we speak, divorce has become like the norm of the day.

Statistics have it that marriages in America last an average of about 11 years. Also, 30 % of marriages have a likelihood of ending up in divorce. How did Utah get to such a point? Read on to gain further insight.

Colonial Divorce

The divorce stigma started way back before the United States became a self governing nation. Back in 1692, the Colony of Massachusetts Bay formed a commission to deal with divorces. The commissioners serving here were given the right to oversee divorces in the case of unbecoming behaviors such as adultery, bigamy and desertion.

Most of the Northern colonies formed their own systems on how to deal with divorce issues. On the other end, the Southern Colonies tried their best to prevent divorce. Legislation was still in place, only that they didn’t wholly buy the idea of couples parting for good.

Fast forward to 1776. Divorce laws were still a bit lenient by this time. The legislature seemed tired of hearing divorces cases. They claimed they needed to give more time to more important work. Thus divorce cases were handed over to the judiciary and it has been so up to this day.

The women then were greatly disadvantaged. Unlike the modern times, the women then were a legal non-entity. This meant that, in the event of a divorce, they could not claim ownership of property or any other financial assets in dispute.

The legislators made efforts to rectify this perception against women. In 1848, they enacted the Married Women’s Property Act. This addressed the women’s plight to some extent. It is however important to note that divorce cases were very scarce then. For any couple who chose to go that way, the woman was the more disadvantaged.

Early 20th Century

Towards the close of the 18th century, some states had been popularly designated Divorce Mills. These are those you could legally turn to if you needed divorce. Utah was surprisingly one these states. Others were Indiana and Dakotas.

Most of the towns in these states blossomed due to this trade. Restaurants were built, bars were opened, and events were organized, to entertain and accommodate visitors who had traveled from far away states seeking divorce.

As civilization advanced, the Congress of 1887 desired to have facts and figures regarding divorce cases, just to measure the magnitude of this menace.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the religious entities joined forces to reduces the incidences of divorce in the US. the Inter-Church Conference on Marriage and Divorce was therefore convened in the year 1903. It is worth noting that, at this same junction of time, feminism was on a steep rise and the society in general had developed such a relaxed attitude towards divorce. Morals had degraded to some extent and divorce had become just another common practice.

It was in the 1920s that trial marriages were established. These allowed a given couple to try out marriage before being officially married. The couple were not allowed to have children during this trial, nor could they get into any lifelong commitments.

This meant the man and woman were just allowed to live and sleep together under the same roof. This marked the introduction of prenuptial contracts. The ills of divorces had also brought rise to pre-marital counselling, as well as marriage counselling, and many found these. Nobody could any longer deny that a problem existed.

Past the World Wars

The two world wars of 1918 and 1945, according to legislators, drove divorce issues to the back seat. The most serious matter at hand then was the war. After the second world war, around 1950, the Family Court system was initiated. This was a big step for the legislature and judiciary arms of the government. Couples were saved from the troubles associated with the traditional court system.

Couples who had divorced before these new laws were made were then able to seek ratification of their agreement to disagree. Previously, all divorce cases had to heard in a court of law. The family Court System did away with this awkward rule. Soon afterwards, the US saw a widespread mushrooming of law firms specialized in divorce cases.

The 1970s

From the middle ages up to 1970s, it was a must that either the husband or the wife was at fault in order for divorce to be granted. Divorce was granted only on the grounds that one of the parties wronged the other, through acts such adultery, or such like. Come 1970s, divorces were allowed even for couples of which none could accuse the other of some wrong done. States such as California and Utah readily adopted this law.
This worked to lower the costs involved in divorces. Since there was no need to prove a fault, one could simply divorce without hiring lawyers and spending lots of money on court proceedings, which many a times did not work out for their good. The divorce lawyers milked the parting couples quite some amount of money.

The no-fault divorce laws simply addressed the plight of the couples, with no much concern for the welfare of the children. Subsequent acts tried to address the welfare of children left after the divorce. This is likewise a contentious topic, and as such, no all-inclusive solution has been found.

Modern Day Utah

The evolving of the divorce laws has certainly been drastic. What we see now is miles different from what used to happen 100 or 500 years back. With every dawn of the day, we are presented with new divorce laws meant to tackle the minute details of divorce.

The no-fault divorce law introduced in the 1970s can be termed as one of the revolutionary laws that shaped the handling of divorce cases. That is what is practiced up to this present day in many areas across the US.
Although the divorce laws have changed much, one fact still remains – divorce many a times destabilizes a child’s upbringing, something which contributes to many of the societal problems we witness in our state.
The splitting of property and finances still remains a bone of contention in many divorce cases. The US legislators have up to now never been able to craft clear-cut laws on this issue. Different states have different laws regarding this.

I salute the US legislators for trying their best to grant divorce to couples without necessarily there being a fault, and at the same time catering for the needs of the child, both social, mental and physical.

Legal Grounds for divorce in Utah

In the present day Utah, in case you want to divorce, you must provide the court with a legal ground as to why you want your marriage terminated. This means you must give a specific reason that led you to pursue divorce.
This is specifically for the fault divorces, where you claim that the behavior of your spouse caused you to terminate the marriage. For the no-fault divorces, you don’t have to give specific reasons for your desire to break up with your spouse.

No fault divorces favor those couples who wish to keep their marriage secrets and woes to themselves. Couples just have to explain to the court that their marriage has experienced irreconcilable differences and they can no longer move on together. The judges will normally not seek to know the details of these irreconcilable differences. They will require you to testify, under oath, that you and your spouse can no longer stay together, and you will be granted the divorce.

For the fault divorces, the following are the statutory grounds for divorce in Utah:

1. Irreconcilable differences between the husband and the wife – When these two find that they are constantly fighting and can seldom come to mutual agreement on anything, they can be granted divorce. The two beings might have completely different natures, such that they find it difficult to bond and agree on anything. Emotions might have led them to marriage, but time proves that they can’t stay together in love.

2. Impotence at the time of marriage – One need that must be fulfilled in marriage is sex. So what happens when the man cannot achieve an erection? The wife will have been denied a very basic need and might be forced to move on to some other guy who can satisfy her sexual needs.

3. Adultery committed by either the husband or the wife – Adultery can really turn the tables upside down in any stable marriage. Once the husband or the wife sleeps outside with another woman or man, the cheated spouse may not take it easy. He or she may call it quits with immediate effect.

4. Willingly deserting your spouse for more than one year – Let us say the husband leaves the wife home for one year. During this period, he does not care how the wife is surviving, or how the children are fairing on. He may or may not disclose his whereabouts. The wife may decide to file a divorce on the grounds of willful desertion, and she will be granted.

5. Failure by choice to provide for the family – Some men abscond their duties and cause real misery to their wife and kids. If the husband does not pay rent, does not buy food and clothing, does not pay fees for the kids’ education, and provide for other basic needs, the wife may find this unbearable and decide to bring an end to the marriage.

6. Excessive drinking – Alcohol abuse comes with myriads of negative effects, whether by the wife or the husband. Staying with alcoholics may prove difficult, especially if they cannot control themselves.

7. Conviction of a felony – Some jail terms after committing crime may be unbearable to the other spouse, and thus they may decide to move on to a free man or woman.

8. Physical, mental and psychological abuse of the wife or husband – Wives can only suffer in silence for only some period of time. Once they reach the limit, they can no longer pretend to be okay and yet they are not. Abuse in marriage may be either physical, emotional or psychological. The husband may be abusing his wife either willingly or unconsciously. When it gets unbearable, the court cannot refuse to grant you divorce.

9. The couples have not lived together under a decree of separate maintenance for a period of 3 years.

10. Permanent and incurable insanity – This is such a big blow because you cannot simply live with a mad man or woman. Such may not exhibit any sound reasoning to matters of life, and so separating from them may be the best solution.

Whether divorces were illegal or legal, it depends on which perspective you are looking at. The society in general used to find fault in divorces. It was a practice widely looked down upon in many states of the United States.
Even so, the authorities could not turn a blind eye on those couples who had been pushed to the wall and needed to part in the way of divorce. They had to grant divorces despite the general perception of how evil it was.
The advancement of the society through the 17th-20th centuries has seen great development in the laws of divorce. From the days women used to single handedly suffer after divorces, the system now grants equal rights to both the man and the woman.

Divorce Attorney Free Consultation

When you need legal help with a divorce in Utah, please call Ascent Law at (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD


Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506