Divorce is legal? When did that happen?

Thanks to one of my readers, I just learned something fascinating about American history. You know how if something is legal today we assume it has always been that way? Well divorce is relatively newly legal in our country! Especially no-fault divorce, meaning either party could walk away for any reason. The modern concept of a divorce varies by culture and religion, but early forms of divorce were almost always only if the husband wanted it. I remember when I lived in Taiwan in the early 1980s, only men could choose divorce and then only he had all the power to decide whether to keep the kids or not. He usually only kept them if they were male.

The first recorded divorce in the American colonies was that of Anne Clarke and her husband Denis Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony on January 5, 1643. The divorce was granted by the Quarter Court of Boston, MA on the grounds that Denis Clarke abandoned his wife to be with another woman.

If your marriage broke up in the 1750s, you had to obtain a private Act of Parliament—essentially, an exception to Britain’s draconian divorce law—to formally divorce. The process was expensive and time-consuming, so wife-selling arose as a form of faux divorce.

Until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, it was essentially impossible to obtain a divorce in the U.S., no matter how bad the marriage or how cruel one’s husband. A couple could only be divorced by the passage of a private act through Parliament, a remedy available only to the very wealthy.

If you wanted a divorce in the early 1900s, you had to prove your significant other had committed adultery, abused, or abandoned you. By 1916, the U.S. led the world in number of divorces and in 1942, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Williams v. North Carolina that other states had to recognize divorces, under the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution. It wasn’t even until the late 1960s that Americans were allowed no-fault divorces.

If there was divorce in your own family history, like mine, the family was usually quite secretive about it. And as we all know, secrecy usually equals shame in our culture. In my family, who were basically Southern Baptist farmers in the Kansas City area in the early 1900s, I can think of three family secrets that my Mom had to really dig for when she decided to do our full genealogical history: divorce, marrying someone of the Jewish faith and severe mental illness.

My own 2001 Colorado divorce was quite quick and painless. We never had to show up in court because the filing was uncontested, meaning we were not fighting over assets and we had no children. We just filled out some forms, paid $99 and we were done. No muss no fuss, except for a few hurt feelings and the various biases and criticisms I experienced from others afterwards. One great side effect for me, my TMJ went away never to return!

Did you know that more than one quarter of Americans getting divorced in the United States today are over age 50, and most of those divorces happen after 20 years of marriage? Pew Research found that the rate of divorce among those over 50 nearly doubled from 1990 to 2015, and the attitudes of those Americans have shifted to feeling much more supportive of divorce.

Here’s my own conclusion a few years after my own divorce:

“Perhaps it’s mainly women who get stigmatized by divorce: “What’s the matter—couldn’t keep your man?” The assumption being that any man is better than no man at all. Come on—we can do better than this, people! Few marriages are matches made in heaven, and sometimes they truly need to end. Mismatched is no match at all. It’s only fair that after a mistake, each of us can try again to find happiness before it’s too late.”

Help & humor: Facing divorce later in life

No, this isn’t about me… A close friend of Mike’s is facing this now in his sixties, and that got me thinking. For many boomers, divorce has not been so uncommon. And now, in our 50s and 60s, it is still quite possible. You are NOT alone!

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s, according to a Pew Research Center report. Statistically speaking we’re healthier and probably going to live longer — possibly thirty years longer than our parents or grandparents did. The surge in later-in-life or “gray divorce” is possibly an unintended consequence of how long we are living today.

When I think back to my first marriage, which ended in 2001, it was quite clear to me after seven years that this union had no chance of going the distance. One way I knew was that I could not possibly imagine my husband taking good care of me in sickness and old age. The genuine, abiding love and loyalty just wasn’t there. Yikes! It was time to try one more time to find that kind of enduring love before it was too late.

At that time I enjoyed the phrase: “DIVORCE IS EXPENSIVE, FREEDOM PRICELESS!

I was 46 then and still feeling vibrant enough to be willing to take on the risks and possible rewards of dating again, but only after a few years of contemplation and mourning. In fact, I started my own local dating service in 2004 and it was LOTS OF FUN! I named it “Intriguing Possibilities!” I figured after losing my last job and a divorce, I needed a job and a date! Long story short, that is how I met Mike, and I’m so glad I did.

What a lucky day that was! We lived only ten miles apart, but would not have met without Match.com. We knew very soon that this was no ordinary love connection, and fifteen years later we never speak of divorce. We know that we’re going out feet first & together! And so I now have a very tough time imagining being single in my sixties, although I do know that ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN AT ANY TIME.

But during my own unique version of a midlife crisis in my mid-40s (I lost my husband, my career and almost my home), I found that I had also lost my faith in love, completely! It was time to do some work on myself to change that situation.

For further explanation of what worked for me in my 40s, please check out my second book: How To Believe in Love Again: Opening to Forgiveness, Trust, and Your Own Inner Wisdom

I also know now that the older you are when you choose your next partner, the more likely you will be able to choose wisely. Without the distorted lens of sex appeal or surface stuff, finding an appropriate life partner becomes about how much you enjoy spending “quality” time with your new love. My advice: stay picky and hold out for a deep and abiding love this time. They’re still out there!

Postscript: In my twenties my Mom kept asking me, “What do you have against men with money???”