“An Exceedingly Painful Case”: The Aftermath of Divorce in Mid-Nineteenth Century England and Wales

Jennifer Aston*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Research into the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 has revealed surprising and unexpected findings, particularly surrounding the accessibility of the Divorce Courts, and the relatively slow uptake of English and Welsh couples who sought to legally dissolve their unions. The aftermath of this process–when the dust of the court room had settled and the litigation was (one way or another) complete–has received significantly less attention, with our knowledge of post-divorce life limited predominately to brief discussion of remarriage statistics. This article uses divorce petitions, census returns, probate records, newspaper reports, and parish records, to reconstruct five case studies to explore what happened to couples after their divorce petitions had been heard and a judgment made. Although in some cases divorce could represent a distinct end point in a relationship and the start of a new stage of the lifecycle, for others an appearance before the Divorce Court was a further step in a longer series of litigation, as well as an event that continued to exert influence on their socio-economic opportunities and prospects. These case studies reveal important new information about how individual understanding of the law influenced the decision-making processes of the men and women whose marriages had ended and indicate the wealth of research waiting to be carried out.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-91
Number of pages21
JournalFamily and Community History
Issue number1
Early online date30 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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