In early American history, divorce statistics were very low, in fact, less than 5% of marriages ended in divorce. However, the low divorce rates were not indicative of happier couples, the prohibition of divorce showed an increase in depression, suicide, and spousal murder. Unhappy couples felt trapped and often had felt powerless to rectify their given situation.
In the few cases where couples could divorce, women were often left destitute because there were no repercussions for husbands that were found guilty of violating the marriage contract. However, divorce reforms have changed many of those factors. In fact, some divorce reform occurred in rather quick succession, with no one being sure exactly why. Some people believe that states competed for residents and allowed simple divorces to lure women to their state. In any case, divorce reforms have changed society's views on marriage and acceptable reasons for divorce.
There were several reasons that judges encouraged divorce reforms. In early history, and even now, judges often view women as victims of divorce. In fact, it was believed that men often left their wives for younger or wealthier prospects. Men were often treated as criminals during divorce proceedings, because judges believed they were in fact guilty of criminal activity by violating the marriage contract. Later, judges found that many couples were guilty of perjury in order to give the appearance of legal grounds for a divorce settlement. For example, spouses could work together in order to concoct a tale about infidelity, even though neither of the spouses had actually cheated. Judges began to suspect that citizens were making a mockery of the court by voluntarily perjuring themselves.
Judges pushed for divorce reforms, in which couples could divorce in the absence of legal grounds for divorce. Due to the new divorce reform, couples only had to attest to the fact that they could not live together happily, or that they had irreconcilable differences. With divorce reforms, came a decrease in spousal abuse, suicide, and murder among spouses. Before divorce reform, it is believed that marriage was seen as a trap by unhappy couples, that felt they had no way out and would never again be allowed to be happy.
Divorce reform also took place to allow couples to avoid the necessity of temporarily moving to another state to take part in more liberal laws that had been accomplished through divorce reform in that state. In fact, lawmakers feared that couples would utilize different laws to be married to more than one person at a time. Lastly, feminism played a large part in divorce reform. In fact, feminist ideals continue to effect divorce, including the rate of divorce and decrease in marriages in America.
Many factors influenced divorce reform in America. Judges and lawmakers sought to eliminate perjury and other illegal acts by couples seeking a legal divorce. In addition, people were hoping to decrease rates of abuse, suicide, and murder among unhappy couples. Lastly, feminism was of great influence to divorce reform. Individual rights and happiness became more important to society than couples responsibility to remain married.