This contains divorce files from England and Wales only. In England and Wales, divorce prior to 1858 was only possible via an Act of Parliament. After 1858, a civil based procedure became possible through a division of the High Court of Justice. The database contains records from civil divorce proceedings that followed the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act.
Records in this database were generated by civil divorce proceedings that followed the Matrimonial Causes Act. The National Archives describes them as follows:
Files of papers arising from petitions for divorce, judicial separation, declarations of legitimacy, applications for protection of a wife's earnings, etc, in the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice. Some later files also relate to appeals from decisions of magistrates' courts in matrimonial causes….
In most cases the files have been weeded and contain only minutes, pleadings and decrees, but in certain selected suits, illustrating particular kinds of proceedings, papers have been preserved in their entirety.
The end date for records in this database is determined by privacy laws. These records also include petitions for separation or to have a marriage nullified.
What You Can Find in the Records
As noted above, records contained in each file will vary, but they may provide the following details:
- spouse’s gender
- type of record
- petition year
- date and place of marriage
- names and birth details of children
- copy of marriage certificate
Records will indicate who filed the petition and who the respondent was. They may also provide a short history of the marriage (including addresses), the grounds for the divorce petition with some details (such as names, times, and places associated with adultery or desertion), terms of judgment, and other details. These details can make these records both informative and very personal.