Divorce Costs . . . in 1845

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, August 9, 2013.

Think divorce is expensive, time consuming or difficult for most people? Today it’s a breeze compared to how it used to be. Believe it or not, getting divorced used to be so expensive; it was out of reach for most people.

A clever judge in England in 1845 wrote a sly opinion complaining about how difficult and expensive it was:

Prisoner at the bar, you have been convicted before me of what the law regards as a very grave and serious offence: that of going through the marriage ceremony a second time while your wife was still alive.

You plead in mitigation of your conduct that she was given to dissipation and drunkenness, that she proved herself a curse to your household, and that she had deserted you; but I am not permitted to recognise any such plea.

The law in its wisdom points out a means by which you might rid yourself from further association with a woman who had dishonoured you; but you did not think proper to adopt it.

You ought first to have brought an action against your wife’s seducer if you could have discovered him; that might have cost you money, and you say you are a poor working man, but that is not the fault of the law.

You would then be obliged to prove by evidence your wife’s criminality in a Court of Justice, and thus obtain a verdict with damages against the defendant, who was not unlikely to turn out a pauper.

But so jealous is the law of the sanctity of the marriage tie, that in accomplishing all this you would only have fulfilled the lighter portion of your duty.

You must then have gone, with your verdict in your hand, and petitioned the House of Lords for a divorce.

It would cost you perhaps five or six hundred pounds and you do not seem to be worth as many pence. (Editor: about $72,000 today) But it is the boast of the law that it is impartial, and makes no difference between the rich and the poor.

You have thus willfully rejected the boon the legislature offered you, and it is my duty to pass upon you such sentence as I think your offence deserves, and that sentence is, that you be imprisoned for one day; and in as much as the present assizes are three days old

We may complain about the costs of no-fault divorce, but things are much improved now. Credit goes to the Volokh Conspiracy for the post.