I had decided that I would try to stick to a Wedding Wednesday theme for a while as it helps to focus one's thoughts for at least one blog ahead of the time that one sits down to write.
However, I came home this morning and really did not feel like blogging about weddings. This was because I spent the morning at a solicitor's office with a friend who is going through a divorce. So somehow, it just felt weird to be writing about weddings. Even though my own wedding anniversary falls soon!
I have been fortunate enough to have spent the last twenty odd years with my husband. We have had our ups and downs as most couples have but we are still here, trying to hold together a relationship, a family and all that those commitments that marriage brings with it. I suspect though that despite the rollercoaster, at the end of the day we have both, deep down, wanted the same thing. Not to split up.
What happens if one or both of you stop wanting to try? Well, you don't need this blog to tell you about that. There are many, many blogs and articles and dating websites and all the rest who can help you with those sorts of discussions.
No, what today brought home to me was the necessity of divorce laws. Marriage is the ultimate trust in someone. Most of us will never be in a position where we have to trust someone with our actual lives but in marriage or long term partnership, we do tend to trust another person with everything else which is important to us. Our emotional well being, our financial well being, our physical maintenance. Not for nothing do the traditional vows say "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health".
Even in this modern age, unless you had a large amount of cash as a couple, you are going to be left considerably worse off when you separate. However, at least separating couples do, in 2014, have options. I did a bit of research today...
The 1857 Act introduced divorce through the court. Men were able to “petition the court” for a divorce on the basis of their wife’s adultery, which would have to be proved, as would the absence of any collusion or condonation of that adultery. Women who wanted to divorce their husbands needed also to prove an aggravating factor of the adultery, such as rape or incest. The High Court in London was the only place to get your divorce, and proceedings were held in open court, enabling society to be scandalised by the personal details revealed during the process. (1)
Men and women did not achieve equality in the matter of petitioning for divorce until 1923! In 1937, it was extended to include cruelty, desertion or incurable insanity (so now I understand why Mr Rochester stays married to the mad woman in the attic in the nineteenth century Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre!). However, by the post-War period, couple were simply arranging for one of them to be "discovered" in a hotel bedroom, "committing adultery".
It was the late 1960s and early 1970s that finally brought in the main parts of the divorce laws that we are subject to today. Not long ago, is it? And yet we take it for granted that an unhappy couple have this route open to them - it is viewed as a right. Indeed, certain celebrities seem to make a career of marriage and divorce deals with gossip magazines!
To look for a moment at this blog's raison d'etre - family history - you do wonder how the marriages in your tree functioned. Who was happy? Who were living separate lives and keeping up appearances? Who left their spouses and just moved away? Some people did not move far but still managed to remarry as bigamists. Prior to 1857, the only way to get a divorce was by Private Act of Parliament. Between 1700 and 1857, only 314 of these were granted...
Not many really, if you consider that there were probably many couples who could have done with such an Act in that 157 year period! Of course, it was spectacularly expensive to obtain a divorce and thus it was only open to the super rich of the day.
Divorce is a not something that most sane people plan (unless they are faking a marriage for immigration purposes!). We build lives together, have families together, expect a future together. But the right to divorce has been hard won. I believe that, unrecorded by any certificates or registers, there are many of our ancestors who would agree.
(1) online guide to divorce