Historically, divorces were only granted in very special circumstances and in early American history, couples found it very difficult to be granted a divorce. In fact, there were existed strict rules and regulations in place that often forbid spouses from filing for divorce. When couples were allowed a divorce, court orders were often ignored, and many women were left destitute by divorce due to their inability to collect marital property or spousal support. Generally, divorce was only granted on the grounds of extreme cases of spousal cruelty and even then, proof was required to back up any allegations. Couples had to explicitly prove that one spouse had been guilty of an extreme violation of the marital contract.
The proof required was also very definitive and it was often impossible for spouses to prove accusations, in the absence of committing perjury. One spouse had to be found guilty of violations such as abuse, infidelity or extreme cruelty. However, many couples hoping to reach a divorce settlement found that neither spouse was in fact guilty of such actions nor either could not be granted a divorce or had to commit perjury in order to get divorced.
Many judges, lawmakers, and feminist groups, fought for divorce reform in which couples that wanted to divorce, could do so in the absence of any grounds for divorce. Many people believed that spouses were entitled to divorce, simply because they wanted to do so. Eventually, couples were able to be granted a divorce in the absence of accusations and blame. No fault divorces allowed couples to divorce simply because they found that they could not be happy if they were forced to remain married. In early America, the divorce rate was less than 5%. However, the rate of divorce in America is currently around 50% and some historians match the higher rate of divorce with the legalization of no fault divorce.
Divorce Law History
Catholic observance provides ample evidence that the splitting of couples occurred without moral or social trepidation. When marriage became a religious institution, the idea of splitting under the law of holy sacrament became wrong in both a social and religious sense. Rather than delineate a legal recourse to break this institution, individuals were forced to remain in disingenuous relationships.
The only remedy offered under Catholic law, an annulment, presented less than ideal means for a couple to end their marriage. Eventually, movements began that spurred modernization of the institution of marriage and allowed people to seek divorce. The United States was particularly late in addressing these calls for reform.
Divorce Restrictions in Early America:
In early America, couples were often unable to get divorced. In many cases couples either fled the state in which their marriage took place, or simply lived lives separate from each other. Even when divorces were granted in extreme circumstance, many spouses found themselves destitute due to a lack of laws regarding distribution of marital property and spousal support. In fact, even orders that were handed down by the courts were often unenforced. A lack of uniform recognition of such court orders, made it difficult for the 'innocent' spouse to continue living in the manner they were accustomed to.
The 'guilty' spouse often fled the area to avoid being held responsible. In fact, they often fled with all of the marital assets, leaving nothing for the remaining spouse. In reality, only the 'innocent' spouse was released from the marital contract. While the guilty spouse was often supposed to remain in the marriage contract, in order to provide for their spouse, many fled and then remarried in another state.
The divorce restrictions were also statistically matched with higher rates of spousal abuse and murder. As divorce restrictions were eased, court orders also began to be more uniformly enforced. In fact, spouses were then unable to flee from their responsibilities as described by the presiding judge. Presently, spouses cannot simply escape their responsibilities by crossing state lines. In fact, many spouses are pursued internationally in accordance with reciprocity agreements.
Prevalence and Implications of Divorce in Early America
The reform process has helped to implement many changes in divorce restrictions and society's acceptance of divorce in general. Currently, there are very few restrictions placed on couples that wish the get divorced. In fact, almost any couple is able to be granted a legal divorce in the United States, as long as they follow the divorce laws prescribed by their state of residence. While some states do have certain restrictions on the granting of divorces, others do not. In addition, certain types of divorces are likely to have certain requirements in most states. For example, couples involved in an uncontested divorce, are frequently granted their divorce in a very timely fashion, in the absence of court proceedings.
In some states, couples must simply live apart for a certain length of time before their divorce is granted. In other types of divorce, couples must attempt to come to a divorce agreement with the aid of court ordered mediation, before they can commence litigation. In addition, couples sometimes have to distribute marital property according to the laws of their state.
For example, some states have regulations that mean that couples would distribute all marital assets in an equal fashion, regardless of the reason for divorce. Before divorce reform, the process was much more involved and it could take years for a couple to be granted a divorce. With nationwide acceptance of no fault divorce, couples have been able to divorce in the absence of blame on either spouse and have had their divorces granted much quicker.
However, some current divorce laws still prevent speedy divorces for some couples. Contested divorces can still take years to reach a resolution, partly because of the couples inability to come to an agreement in the absence of court intervention.