Prior to 1670 a marriage could only be ended by the Church courts if it could be shown to have never existed in the first place, either through inability to consent (e.g. insanity) or by want of capacity to marry (e.g. precontract, consanguinity, the two parties were related by a previous marriage). A marriage could also be ended if one of the parties were impotent or frigid when the marriage was contracted. It was also possible to get a legal separation from the church known as divorce a mensa et thoro (from board and hearth). Grounds for the separation included adultery, cruelty and heresy, and it meant that any offspring were not rendered illegitimate. However neither spouse could remarry until the other had died.
In the 1530s, Henry VIII decided that he wished to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, on the grounds of affinity; he argued that, since Catherine was his brother Arthur's widow, the marriage had never really existed. Catherine claimed that her marriage to Arthur had never been properly consummated. In 1533 Thomas Cranmer was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and he declared that Henry's marriage to Catherine was void, effectively bastardizing their daughter Mary (later Mary I). In 1536 Cranmer similarly declared Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn void, most probably due to Henry's pervious relationship with Anne's sister Mary Boleyn. Cranmer tried to reform the Church of England's Canon law so that it allowed divorce for adultery, cruelty, and desertion, but these changes were not implemented.
Following Lord Roos's divorce on the grounds of adultery in 1670, the procedure for divorce in English law went as follows: first the husband brought an action for "criminal conversation" to establish the adultery, then he obtained a divorce a mensa et thoro from the church and then finally he petitioned the House of Lords to grant the divorce.
In 1853 a Royal Commission made recommendations on how to improve the procedure of getting a divorce. In 1857 the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, based in London, was established, taking over the divorce duties of the church courts. Men could obtain divorce for adultery, but women had to prove cruelty or desertion, in addition of their husband's adultery. In 1923 women were allowed to use the same grounds for divorce as men. In 1969, after much debate, matrimonial breakdown became grounds for divorce.
Religious/cultural attitudes to divorce
Many countries in Europe, such as France prohibited divorce as it was not condoned by the Catholic church. Sometimes citizens would have to travel to other jurisdictions to obtain a divorce.
David Instone-Brewer has an extensive website at www.instone-brewer.com which discusses marriage and divorce from 1st century context.
Needs to be filled in
Social and psychological issues
Women are generally the financial victims of divorce due to the lack of equal pay for equal work in many countries and the fact that many women give up employment after marriage to bring up children. They are often left with the burden of looking after the children after the divorce while having to find work in low-paid jobs. Child support collection is a major problem as many fathers do not accept that they have an obligation towards their children. Many national and local governments provide some kind of welfare system for divorced mothers and their children. See single mother for details. Recognition of the problems faced by fathers and other relatives is given by self-help groups such as Families Need Fathers .
- causes of divorce
- effects on children
- women's shelters etc.
- human rights issues
Legal aspects of divorce
Under the laws of all of the states of the United States (excepting New York) a divorce is now called dissolution of marriage.
This change in nomenclature was concomitant with the trend of most states to depart from the more restrictive fault-based divorce to the more liberal no-fault divorce standard.
A number of states have discarded fault-based grounds for divorce, however all 50 states do offer some form of no-fault divorce.
The procedural and substantive specifics of pleading vary among jurisdictions. Examples of fault-based grounds include: adultery, attempted murder, desertion, habitual drunkenness, infection of one’s spouse with venereal disease, insanity, impotency, mental cruelty, physical cruelty, and use of addictive drugs.
Again, the specifics vary among the several states. As a general statement however, a no-fault divorce occurs when neither the wife nor the husband is to blame for the breakdown of the marriage. Common bases for no-fault divorce are incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In some jurisdictions, where the parties have lived separately for a statutoraly determined amount of time with the intent of permanent separation, this can constitute no-fault grounds.
Part and parcel to divorce are:
- financial settlements
- children's issues.
- pre-nuptial agreements.
In Canada while civil and political rights are in the jurisdiction of the provinces of Canada, the Constitution of Canada specifically made marriage and divorce the realm of the federal government. Essentially this means that Canada's divorce law is uniform throughout Canada, even in Quebec, that differs from the other provinces in its use of the civil law as codified in the Civil Code of Quebec as opposed to the common law that is in force in the other provinces and generally interpreted in similar ways throughout the Anglo-Canadian provinces.
The Canada Divorce Act recognizes three grounds for divorce: adultery, cruelty, and being separated for one year. Most divorces proceed on the basis of the spouses being separated for one year, even if there has been cruelty or adultery. This is because proving cruelty or adultery is expensive and time consuming.  The one-year period of separation starts from the time at least one spouse intends to live separate and apart from the other and acts on it. You do not need a piece of paper or a court order to be separated. There is no such thing as a "legal separation" in Canada.  You can be separated even if you are living in the same house. You can apply for the divorce in a province in which you or your spouse has lived for at least one year.
In Japan, under the national laws, divorce is a simple process of submitting a declaration to the relevant government office that says both spouses agree to divorce. Unfortunately for foreign spouses, it is all too easy, and common, for a Japanese spouse to forge a signature on a divorce form. So some countries do not accept this kind of divorce carried out in Japan. As a defense, there is a form you can submit that prevents a divorce form from being submitted for six months.
There are also three other types of divorce in Japan: Divorce by mediation in a family court (chotei rikon), Divorce by judgement of the family court (shimpan rikon), and Divorce by judgment of a district court (saiban rikon).
In the UK, divorce is administered by the Lord Chancellor's Department, with the involvement of the DFES. Relevant laws are: