Divorce Law History in the USA


It is difficult to overestimate the significance of legislation for everyday life. Relevant laws are created to regulate relationships in all spheres where possible problems can arise. It refers to concluding various agreements, employment issues, safety, and many others. Among them, the laws that govern relationships between spouses are of crucial importance because they imply rules of how a divorce should take place.

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Many aspects stand for grounds for divorces, but once they emerge, specific laws and regulations should be implemented to help people dissolve their marriages. It is so because healthy relationships are essential to the psychological well-being of individuals. Thus, divorce law is a crucial component of the legislation that regulates established relationships between spouses, has its own history, and is applied to solve many significant cases.

Historical Analysis of Divorce Law

Divorce practice has not always been the same because various times resulted in some changes to this kind of legislation. Some decisions that were strictly forbidden in the past are now applicable in many states. It is a standard process of development that influences everything in the world. Thus, it is necessary to perform historical analysis to identify when divorce law appeared and how it has changed over the time of its existence.

Colonial Divorce

Divorce legislation had appeared long before the United States became a nation in its modern meaning. It is said that the first divorce law emerged in the Colony of Massachusetts Bay in 1629 (Hardy, 2015). Then, divorces were granted based on many reasons, including adultery, desertion, and others. Furthermore, divorce matters implied essential differences, depending on where they happened.

In general, the northern colonies developed specific norms and regulations for divorce, while the South tried to do all its best to prevent its citizens from getting divorced (Hardy, 2015). This strategy is found now because the southern states have one of the lowest divorce rates across the nation. For example, Louisiana witnesses 1.9 divorces per 1,000 of the population (Statista, 2017). It supports the idea that past trends find their manifestation in the modern world.

In addition to that, Hardy admits that divorce law became more moderate in 1776 when the judiciary started hearing such cases. Even though the dissolution of marriages was allowed, it had various consequences and possibilities for the spouses. It referred to the fact that women had limited rights, and it was almost impossible for them to reckon on the fair distribution of assets after divorce.

The Married Women’s Property Acts in 1848 were expected to improve that, but divorces were still uncommon in the 17th-19th centuries because they resulted in financial and social disadvantages for women (Hardy, 2015). However, such states as Indiana, Dakota, and Utah welcomed this practice, and numerous people come there to obtain a divorce. It was so because those states had bars and restaurants that could dissolve marriages.

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The 20th Century

While the dissolution of marriages became a common practice in the late 19th century, the early 20th century witnessed an attempt to improve it through religion. However, various church conferences failed to cope with the task due to the strengthening feminist movement and overall relaxation of views in society (Hardy, 2015). The term relaxation of views denotes that people did not consider divorces as something morally or socially wrong. Furthermore, the 1920s saw the appearance of trial marriages when unmarried people of different genders were allowed to live together. It was the first step of the nation toward prenuptial contracts.

Another crucial innovation to divorce law occurred in the 1950s when the family court system appeared (Hardy, 2015). It resulted in the fact that divorce cases were heard by judges who specialized in such affairs. Consequently, it led to more adequate results of separate divorce proceedings for the spouses involved. Furthermore, the family court system served as a push for lawyers of a new kind to appear. It resulted in the fact that numerous law firms specializing in divorce affairs started emerging throughout the country. Soon, many American cities have their own divorce systems and firms that assisted in these proceedings.

Possibly, the most significant change to American divorce law happened in the 1970s when no-fault divorces were allowed (Hardy, 2015). Even the family court system did not release spouses from the necessity to explain the reasons for their separation by proving a fault of one of them.

The new option, however, made it possible to obtain a divorce without this requirement. Consequently, this innovation increased divorce rates across the nation significantly because citizens were allowed to dissolve their marriages without the necessity to blame their partners. However, the no-fault divorce practice had a significant drawback because it did not draw attention to child custody matters. Once parents had the right to end their marriages quickly, many children were left without the necessary resources for healthy living and development.

The Modern World

Thus, divorce law in the United States has overcome the long path described away to acquire its current shape that is much different from what it was initially. Even though divorces are common today, they do not always result in positive consequences. It refers to children that have to live in single-parent families and experience financial problems. That is why it is impossible to state that divorce law is free from any defects. Numerous lawyers and social activists insist on modifying the present statutes and requirements that govern this aspect of public life to make them meet the needs of modern society. It refers to establishing a divorce system that would both allow for the dissolution of marriage without the necessity to prove a fault and address the child and financial factors of these decisions.

Divorce Proceedings Explained

Few people who are saying their wedding vows can predict that they will witness a divorce. This word stands for a legal process that is organized to terminate a marriage officially. It is a process when spouses withdraw from their official relationship and are allowed to marry other individuals. A judge or other appropriate officials have the power to announce a divorce. To begin with, one should identify whether the legal topic of divorce is essential for society.

The study by Cohen (2019) is helpful here because the researcher reports that more than 10% of marriages resulted in separations each year during the period between 2012 and 2017 (p. 2). Even though this percentage seems to be relatively low, it is dramatic because it accounts for approximately 687,890 divorces annually (Cohen, 2019, p. 2). Such a significant figure means that the country needs divorce legislation that should settle these cases. It exists and is said to cope with the task successfully, but Cohen (2019) mentions that numerous people supported the idea to make divorce easier to obtain (p. 1). This fact can predict some changes to divorce law in the future, but it is necessary at first to comment on the current peculiarities of this legislation.

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Divorce proceedings terminate marriages between people and provide them with an opportunity to marry other individuals. In the United States, particular divorce laws can vary from state to state, while some universal requirements still exist. Thus, people now are not required to prove a reasoned ground for the dissolution of their marriages as it was a few years ago. It happened in 1970 when California became the first state to allow for divorces without the necessity of proving valid reasons (World Population Review, 2019).

At present, numerous divorces take place by mutual agreement of the spouses. In some cases, spouses do not have any claims to each other, and such a divorce procedure manifests itself in changing the official statuses of the two. On the contrary, it often happens that the couple cannot agree on some issues. In such instances, divorce proceedings turn into more complex events involving numerous aspects. One should admit that many divorce proceedings also include matters of distribution of property, child custody, and support, division of debt, and spousal support. It means that many disputes arise on a financial basis, and courts should use specific norms and regulations to solve such cases.

When it comes to the distribution of assets, courts can use one of the existing models that are community property or equitable distribution. On the one hand, the first scheme stipulates that both spouses own money irrespective of who has earned it. Thus, the couple has equal rights to all the property that has been bought from the beginning of their marriage. That is why courts should divide it equally between the previous spouses, which is known as community property. Furthermore, the given scheme acknowledges the presence of premarital assets that are goods and belongings acquired by one of the spouses before the marriage. Consequently, a husband may not have pretensions to the assets that were bought by his wife before the wedding.

On the other hand, equitable distribution draws attention to the personal contributions of the spouses to acquiring their property. In this case, the assets are divided fairly, but it does not always result in an equal distribution. The given scheme considers multiple factors to determine the spouses’ shares. It refers to the size of personal contribution, the value of assets, tax obligations, and others. In addition to that, possible alimony payments and other financial responsibilities are of crucial significance for courts to decide on the allocation of assets according to the scheme of equitable distribution.

Specific challenges arise when couples with underage children want to obtain a divorce. Here, spouses should create a plan that will present their liabilities in bringing up their children. The parents are free to enter a written agreement on their own, determining their responsibilities through private negotiations. If they fail, courts decide on this matter, and the parents should follow these conditions entirely. When a person fails to abide by the court’s decision, it can result in some penalties, including garnishing wages, inability to renew a driver’s license, and others. As has been mentioned, a court may determine the role of a parent in child custody by establishing appropriate alimony payments. Even though a common belief states that men are usually obliged to pay alimonies, women also can obtain this financial responsibility.

Furthermore, the description of divorce law will be incomplete without paying attention to the fault and no-fault divorces. In general, all 50 states allow no-fault grounds for divorce, but only 17 of them are considered true no-fault states (World Population Review, 2019) In these 17 states, the dissolution of a marriage is caused by one spouse’s actions or his or her conditions, both physiological and psychological.

In other words, a spouse blames his or her partner for divorce, which should imply severe grounds. These reasons include physical abuse, adultery, sexual disorders, insanity, imprisonment, and many others. As soon as one of these conditions is officially proved, a judge may announce a divorce. In those states where fault divorce is allowed, it is a common practice that a spouse who has declared the fault of the partner obtains a more substantial part of family assets.

At the same time, no-fault divorces stand for cases where spouses do not have to prove the faults of each other. One should mention that such divorces happen by mutual agreement between the two sides. In this case, a husband or wife should provide the court with a reason that is officially recognized by state law. Irreconcilable differences and incompatibility stand for the most requested grounds. These differences are represented by the loss of trust, differing political opinions, personal conflicts, and many other factors. If a couple wants to obtain a no-fault divorce, some states may oblige them to live separately for a few months, which happens quite often. It is done so to provide them with time to weigh this significant decision. Sometimes, this weighting period helps people understand that divorce is not an option.

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Thus, divorce is a complex legal topic that is essential for many individuals. Once people understand that they cannot live with their spouses, they need a specific legal process to cancel the formal relationship between them. Furthermore, divorce law focuses on many other aspects, including child custody and distribution of assets. The peculiarities above refer to the current state of this legislation, but it is necessary to consider its historical development to understand why some aspects are present now.

Relevant Cases

Every legal case has a particular meaning for divorce law. It is so because they either support the existing ways of solving divorce matters or introduce new challenges that make courts and judges pronounce unexpected or unprecedented decisions. It is necessary to become familiar with some of these cases to comprehend how this legislation works in practice. Thus, the most prominent examples of such proceedings will be described further.

Bair vs. Bair, 2017

The given case deals with the distribution of assets after a divorce (Schutz, 2017). The couple went to court because they did not agree on “the marital portion of Mr. Bair’s separate minority interest in a boat dealership” that had witnessed a significant drop in its value (Schutz, 2017, para. 1). Thus, Mrs. Bair’s team estimated that portion $1 million higher in comparison with that provided by Mr. Bair’s side. This higher figure appeared because Mrs. Bair’s team had not included real estate value but had stated that “changes in the market were passive in nature” (Schutz, 2017, para. 2).

Since the trial court accepted that idea, Mr. Bair’s legal team went to the appeals court that stated that all assets and liabilities had to be included in the valuation of a company. Consequently, the scheme of equitable distribution was applied to this case.

Bair vs. Bair case is integral for legal law because it represents the most prevalent cause of dispute between couples. It refers to money and how many assets each of the spouses will own after their divorce. Furthermore, the case demonstrates that courts do not always manage to pronounce lawful judgments. If it happens, citizens who are against such a decision may go to the appeals court to prove their points of view. As has been mentioned above, Mr. Bair followed that strategy, which resulted in financial benefits for him.

Marriage of Gomez and Shue, 2016

According to Peterson (2016a), the given case refers to the phenomenon of spousal support denial. Ms. Gomez obtains spousal support from Mr. Shue, and the two have a minor daughter, Ashley. It was established that Ms. Gomez supplied her minor children and their friends with alcohol. In an attempt to force Ashley not to disclose this information, Ms. Gomez exercises physical violence against the girl. At this time, Mr. Shue works in the oil industry and provides his former spouse with the required financial support. However, it is proved that Ms. Gomez has sufficient assets to support herself, which can result in the denial of spousal support. These data result in the decision that Ms. Gomez is denied spousal support because her fault is proved.

This legal case directly addresses the situation that domestic violence against minor children is closely associated with the denial of spousal support. Even though the incident takes place in California, a no-fault divorce state, proving a fault is essential to make the right decision. This case is a useful event for family law since it means that domestic violence will result in significant financial consequences for offenders. In other words, it means that proving fault behavior can be substantial even in no-fault divorce states.

Re Marriage of Wilson, 2016

Peterson (2016b) stipulates that the child was born in 1979, and the father was ordered to pay child support until his daughter turns 18 years old. However, the father refused to pay support because the child was living for only 20 months in total with her mother and the rest of the child’s life with the father’s parents. Since the father paid some money to his parents to support the child, he insists on staying in enforcement on his arrears.

The present data make the trial court refuse to enforce child support orders since the child lived with grandparents. In this instance, the trial court follows equitable arguments in making its decision. In other words, the enforcement of arrears would be considered as nothing but a source of revenue for the mother. Thus, the given case is essential for divorce legislation since it promises to bring more fairness to child support issues.

Personal Opinion

As far as my personal opinion is concerned, divorce law is of crucial significance for society. It is said that divorces happen quite often, and these situations are not extraordinary. When people decide that they want to dissolve their marriage, they need a specific system that would satisfy their needs, and divorce law has been designed for this purpose. There are many grounds for couples to request the dissolution of their marriages.

Some of them are serious, while others seem to be insignificant. In any case, if people decide to separate, they have reasons for it. That is why I believe that a no-fault divorce is a useful option in the modern world. When people have some relationship problems, it is not reasonable to force them to stay together by law. This fact can result in adverse consequences, both mental and physical, for such spouses. Thus, the system of no-fault divorces stands for rescue for those people who want to separate from their previous spouses.

As has been mentioned above, divorce law has not always been such people-oriented. Since it appeared in the 17th century, there is no doubt that it was much different from what it is in the present world. The social and political development of the United States inevitably resulted in corresponding changes to divorce legislation. I think that it was an essential event because it meant that women did not need to suffer from physical and mental abuse from their husbands to not be left without means of subsistence. In addition to no-fault divorces, this system resulted in a higher number of divorces across the nation.

Both the history of divorce law and its current position allows me to suppose that it will face significant changes in the future. On the one hand, the information above proves that this area of the legislature is in a state of constant development, and what was considered impossible a few decades ago is a typical situation now. On the other hand, the survey by Cohen (2019) is important because it presents the current divorce trends in the USA. The researcher has mentioned that a high number of people are interested in rules and regulations that will make the dissolution of marriages easier for individuals. The historical analysis demonstrates that the systems no-fault divorce and equal distribution of assets between the spouses were the first steps toward this simplification.

Thus, I predict that the coming years will witness additional regulations that will result in an increased number of divorces. In addition to that, the described cases demonstrate that divorce legislation is in a state of development that can result in some changes. For example, one can expect that courts will pay more attention to spousal behavior while deciding on financial support issues. In addition to that, it is proved that courts tend to make more equitable decisions, which is useful for ordinary citizens.

Summarizing Divorce Trends

There is no doubt that divorce law is essential for individuals and the whole society. It allows people to rescue from unhappy marriages and enter official relationships with other partners. When it comes to divorce proceedings, courts are forced to deal with various accompanying issues, including distribution of assets and child custody. In many cases, the disagreement on these issues makes people go to court. Furthermore, divorce law has a rich history, and various events have created the system that is used in the modern legislature. Finally, the current information allows me to suppose that the given area of legislation will face essential changes that will make the process of divorce even more available and useful for individuals.


Cohen, P. N. (2019). The coming divorce decline. Socius. Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, 5, 1-6.

Hardy, J. (2015). The history of divorce law in the USA. Web.

Peterson, M. C. (2016a). Denial of spousal support extended to include DV perpetrated against child. Web.

Peterson, M. C. (2016b). Marriage of Wilson – trial court may refuse to enforce child support orders where minor living with grandparents! Web.

Schutz, J. (2017). Bair v. Bair, active and passive appreciation. Web.

Statista (2017). Divorce rate in the United States in 2017, by state. Web.

World Population Review (2019). No fault divorce states 2019. Web.

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