History of Divorce in the U.S.

In early United States history, divorce was considered a matter of religious consideration and importance. As marriage was considered a binding lifelong contract, the very idea of divorce was rejected by most religious sects from colonial life and beyond.

Eventually, following the Reformation, the non-Catholic regions began to recognize divorce as more of a civil matter, and while the marriage vows were still held sacred, civil courts claimed the right to end marriages as deemed necessary.

Still, for literally centuries, the only validated requests for divorce were for such serious claims as infidelity, abandonment, and extreme cruelty. Anything less was considered an unworthy case for divorce and was rejected by civil courts.

In the 17th century, as the 13 colonies were beginning the transition to 50 states,  inebriation and impotence were also included in just causes for divorce. But the state assumed that the survival of the marriage was preferable. Thus the petitioner for the divorce had to prove the need for it.

In the mid 1900’s, the no-fault divorce was first invented, but it was amidst great controversy. Proponents claimed that many would be freed from hopeless marriages, while opponents claimed that the no-fault laws would just make divorce a rampant problem in the United States. Some no-fault reasons include long-term separation, incompatibility, and loss of sanity.

Judges of the 1950’s and 1960’s adhered to the fault-based divorce laws.

In the 1970s, the no-fault divorce became official and soon spread throughout the entire nation’s state laws. With the no-fault divorce added into law, the 1980s saw a peak in divorces. 50% of all marriages ended in divorce, primarily using the no-fault divorce laws. Today that number has lessened somewhat, but remains close to half of all marriages performed in the United States.

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