History of Marriage and Divorce

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Marriage and divorce are personal choices of any individual. However, they are bound by some legal and social norms. While the concept of marriage emerged through the association of two people, which dates back right from the evolution of mankind, the concept of divorce got introduced much later. There were many social regulations and rules that were associated with marriage and divorce. As modernizations started having its impact on the traditional mindset of the people, these two concepts have gone through a lot of changes. Before going through the recent nature of divorce and marriage, it is necessary to know about the history of marriage and divorce.

Chronological Events in the History of Marriage and Divorce

  • Anglo-Americans observed that marriage was inviolable. They promoted laws and social behaviors owing to which divorce was a difficult proposition. Marriage was considered as a lifetime union that had a religious base

  • New England Puritans were of the opinion that well ordered families led to a well ordered society. They regarded marriage as a civil contract that should be entered on the basis of mutual consent

  • TThe average duration of marriage was only 7 years in the 17th century Chesapeake. The reason was a high mortality rate

  • The New England weather was very healthy and hence colonial couples could enjoy long marital life

  • In the Colonial period, divorce was regarded disgraceful and difficult to attain. So, it was rare. But the Puritans believed that marital life should be happy. So, they accepted desertion, bigamy and adultery as the grounds of divorce

  • In 1700, the concept of divorce was legalized in the United States. The first state to accept divorce was the state of Maryland. Gradually, every state law recognized divorce as a "dissolution of marriage"

  • Prior to 1800, a majority of divorce petitioners were men. Post Revolutionary War, several women took the lead in gaining divorces

  • South Carolina prohibited divorce completely in the Antebellum Era. During this period, in the other states, Chancery and Equity courts addressed the divorce issues. Each colony and state framed marriage and divorce laws that were based on the minimum age for marriage, residency requirements and property rights. The state of South Carolina accepted divorce in 1950's

  • Single women enjoyed property rights. However, they were deprived of these rights post marriage. In 1839, Mississippi protected the divorce property rights of married women and was a pioneer in this regard. During the early 20th century, several states issued rights as per which women possessed the right to property and earning

  • In colonial New England, men generally married in the late 20's and women in the early 20's. In the 19th century, the immigrants struggled with poverty and hence married at a later age as compared to the native born people

  • The age of marriage declined in the 1940's and 1950's. In the 1960's, more women pursued higher education and jobs and hence the marriageable age rose. The average age at which a female married for the first time reached a new high in the 1980's

  • After 1840, the rate of divorce gradually rose. In the late 19th century, women acquired more education and economical independence and consequently, the divorce rate rose. At the same time, the legal grounds of divorce were expanded

  • In 1870, it was calculated that 81 divorces took place per 0.1 million of the married population of the US. By 1900, there were 200 divorces (keeping other factors constant)

  • After every major war in the 20th century, the divorce rate climbed sharply. In the 1930's, there was the Depression, when the divorce rate dropped. After 1965, this rate climbed up severely, and peaked around 1980, which later stabilized. In the 1990's, 50 percent of the marriages in the US ended in divorce. This was the highest divorce rate in the Western World

  • Some Mormons and Native American tribes observed polygamy. However, by the late 19th century, legislation terminated this practice to a considerable extent. A majority of 20th century marriages comprised of heterosexual and monogamous relations

  • During the 1990's, there were movements to legalize same sex marriages
  • Cohabitation began as a modern and widespread substitute or precursor to marital life. Since the 1960's, the number of young people who are living together in the absence of a legally binding relationship is increasing day by day. The system is known as live-in relationship. The people in this kind of relation, are free from the rules and regulations of a marriage act. But, at the same time, they are not allowed to enjoy any legal rights that are enforced by the institution of marriage

The history of marriage and divorce can go back to several centuries. As marriage is the basis of the society, every culture had its specific rules associated with it. Separation is allowed in some cultures, but, nowadays, marriage and divorce are subject to the state law and every resident is bound to follow the uniform law of the state in these matters.

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