Categories: Everyday Life, Law, Who Knew?

Grounds for Divorce – Who Knew?

Two Days After Marriage
Two Days After Marriage, lithograph printed by D. W. Kellogg & Co., 1830-1840 – Connecticut Historical Society

… that in 1667 the colony of Connecticut passed the first divorce statute. 

While Connecticut was not the first to grant a divorce, it was the first to define the grounds for dissolution of a marriage in An Act Relating to Bills of Divorce. The act passed after New Haven Colony joined the Connecticut Colony and established the Court of Assistants in 1666. Enacted by the Governor and Council and House of Representatives, the act defined sufficient grounds as “adultery, or fraudulent contract, or willful desertion for three years with total neglect of duty; or in case of seven years absence… .” On the granting of divorce by the courts both husband and wife were “deemed and accounted single and unmarried.”  This equitable treatment of both men and women in the matter of divorce was rooted in the Puritan belief, prevalent in the New England Colonies, that marriage was a civil contract. Approximately 1,000 divorces were granted in Connecticut between 1670 and 1800. The four grounds for dissolution remained essentially unchanged until 1849 when “habitual intemperance” and “intolerable cruelty” were added.

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Documents

Jarvis, Sarah McCurdy Hart. “Broadside - The Petition of Sarah M. Jarvis, of Middletown ... to Grant Her a Bill of Divorce from Her Said Husband [Rev. Samuel F. Jarvis] ... Sarah M. Jarvis. Middletown, January 31st, A.D. 1839,” 1839. Connecticut History Online, Connecticut Historical Society. Link.
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