The History of Divorce in Michigan and The USA (Part 2)

Weddings in the 30’s and 40’s were often ended by war, rather than divorce.


Welcome back and thanks for joining us again for this look into the history of divorce here in Michigan and throughout the US. Previously we looked at the earliest records of divorce in the US, which happened to be in Massachusetts, and the year Michigan first documented a divorce – 1892. Up next we’re going to look at divorce after the turn of the last century.


By the turn of the previous century, divorce was slowly becoming a more commonly practiced method of marital conflict resolution. At the same time, it was developing less of a social stigma. That may seem hard to believe, as there is still a stigma attached to divorce even nowadays. Although it’s certainly less of an issue than it was over 100 years ago!


An interesting fact about divorce during this period in Michigan’s history is that there were actually two different kinds of divorce. These were Absolute Divorce, which is divorce from the legal bonds of matrimony, and Divorce from Bed and Board, which is essentially what we would now call a Judgment of Separate Maintenance.


The legal grounds for being granted an absolute divorce were:

  • adultery,
  • imprisonment of one party for three or more years,
  • habitual drunkenness (if the problem developed after the couple was married),
  • desertion for two years or more,
  • physical incompetency of one party at the time of marriage, or
  • if one party obtained a divorce in another state.


Divorce from bed and board was granted for different reasons. These included:

  • extreme cruelty,
  • desertion for two years of more, and
  • a wife’s complaint that her husband does not provide suitable maintenance for her although he is able to do so.


Unlike an absolute divorce, this decree could be revoked by the court if both parties claimed that they were able to reconcile their differences. As you can imagine, this didn’t happen all that often.


While there did appear to be a significant rise in the rate of divorces between 1898 (when the state first required counties to provide a record of all divorces) and the 1920’s in Michigan, these figures are a bit misleading. This is because the state was experiencing a significant increase in population during this time, which, when accounted for, shows only a nominal rise in Michigan’s divorce rate. But all of that began to change during the ‘roaring twenties’!


Court records show that by January 1st of 1920, there were 10,290 pending divorce cases. By the final day of that same year, this figure had risen to 11,661. During the course of that year, the court in Michigan granted 8679 divorces, while 2221 divorce petitions were withdrawn, 885 were contested, and only 168 were refused by the court.


Also by the twenties, the concept of “trial marriage” was being presented as a viable, if rather revolutionary, option for reducing the instance of future divorce. By allowing a young couple to live together for a time without commingling their finances or having any children, it was hoped that couples could ‘test drive’ a possible marriage.


Another marriage related concept that was coming into vogue at this point was marriage counseling. It’s the first time in Michigan’s marital history that there’s any indication of residents  attempting to seek formal outside help, beyond that of the church, to resolve their relationship issues.


Join us next time when we wrap up this segment of the history of divorce in Michigan, by looking at more changes in the last century, right up to our current time period. Until then, if you or a loved one need help with a here-and-now divorce, whether it’s child custody, asset division or even paternity, our skilled family lawyers are here to help. Just call 866 766 5245 to set us your free consultation today.