In America, divorce law dates all the way back to colonial times. One of the earliest instances of divorce law took place in Massachusetts when a judicial tribunal was created to preside over divorce matters. Adultery was the primary reason for divorce, although desertion, bigamy, and impotence were also common causes for divorce as well. Cases under the judicial tribunal were fairly expensive, so divorce was mostly pursued by the rich. Likewise, since women did not possess many rights, they were expected to produce substantial evidence against their husband. Although divorces were at times permitted in favor of the woman, the courts were far more lenient towards men and required no division of property or financial support, leaving women without property, money, or children (they typically remained with their father).
As time progressed, divorce law became less restrictive. Although women still faced the issue of claiming ownership of property or financial assets due to being considered a legal non-entity, or a person who doesn’t have legal standing in the eyes of the law, therefore, inhibiting their capacity to enter agreements, assume obligations, or incur and pay debts. That is until the Married Women’s Property Acts in 1848 when a law was enacted to protect women’s rights to claim ownership of property and other marital assets. Nearly 30 years later, Congress ordered the first compendium of divorce statistics at a federal level.
While there was plenty of effort on the homefront, the nation, entrenched in two world wars, found its focus to be needed elsewhere. The progression of divorce laws stagnated until around the 1950s when family court law was introduced. Created as the sole purpose for handling matters related to divorce, family law saw the rise of divorced-specialized law firms across the country.
It wasn’t for another 20 years that family law saw a big change; however, the change is arguably the biggest change to divorce law in history. Former President Ronald Reagan, governor of California at the time) was the first governor to sign ‘No Fault Divorces’ into law. Thanks to the new law, individuals were able to file for divorce for any reason without showing wrongdoing by either party. Shortly after California’s lead, other states followed suit. Although no fault divorces were a huge leap towards refining divorce laws, certain aspects of divorce, such as child support or custody, remained largely neglected.
Throughout the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, new divorce laws have been enacted to improve the more minute aspects of divorce, including child and spousal support and the division of assets, in efforts to ensure a fair and equal divorce proceeding for all.