The History of Divorce in Michigan and The USA (Part 1)

Old black and white wedding photo
Not all marriages in history ended well. But how were divorces handled in Michigan 100 years ago…?

Divorce, that great source of religious contention and social inequality for so many years now, has certainly changed significantly throughout history. Many of the laws we take for granted these days were at one point in history, quite revolutionary, and at others – a complete pipe dream.

The fact that here in Michigan it’s no longer necessary to prove infidelity in order to get divorced would have been a rather gasp-worthy concept as recently as a hundred years ago. And that’s not by any means the only difference. Here’s an abbreviated look at the history of divorce, both in the US and in Michigan…

One Of the earliest records of a law that pertained to divorce here in the US comes from 1629, from the Massachusetts Bay colony. There they created a judicial tribunal for the purpose of addressing the issue of divorce among the colonists.

The tribunal was legally allowed to grant divorces for the following reasons: desertion, bigamy, adultery and in some instances, impotence. For the next hundred years or so, your approach to divorce “in the colonies” reflected exactly where you came from – in the north divorce was made available in a limited format, whereas in the south it was avoided at all costs.

After 1776, the laws regarding divorce became slightly less restrictive, although they did nothing to address the fact that a woman had no legal standing as a citizen, and could not own land or property. This made divorce particularly difficult for women. However, in 1848 the Married Women’s Property Acts did attempt to address this issue to some degree.

As with all things over the passage of time, people’s views relaxed incrementally, and in 1887 Congress decided to compile the first ever federal report on divorce statistics in order to determine how much of an issue divorce had become within American society.

Divorce in Michigan’s history…

It was at this time in Michigan’s history, at about 1897, that the state began requiring that the individual counties record any divorces that took place among their residents. These records are in many ways very similar to current divorce records filed by the court, including a reason for the divorce, number of children in the family, and a list of any assets.

The differences show up in the fact that these records also include whether or not the divorce was contested, which no longer has any bearing on modern Michigan divorces. These historical records also document whether or not each divorce was granted by the court – an issue that seems incongruous to our modern sensibilities today.

The earliest divorces on record for Michigan date from 1892, which was a busy year for the Michigan courts, and it only got busier with each passing year after that. In this year alone the state’s court system granted 1901 divorces, which does not include the 128 that were withdrawn, the 432 that were contested, and the 21 that were completely denied by the court.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Who know divorce history could be so interesting? Well, we did, obviously. But we were pretty certain you’d be curious too. So please stop back in next time and take a look at divorce in the 20th century, and how much law and practice has changed over the last century. Until then, if you or a loved one need help with a divorce in the here-and-now, call The Kronzek Firm at 866 766 5245. Our skilled family law attorneys are available day and night to help you work through this difficult time.