In the 1950’s you had to prove grounds for divorce, with no guarantee that a court would grant one. States that granted divorce recognized grounds that were nearly impossible to prove, such as physical evidence of abuse. No wonder so many people opted to go to Reno instead: the “divorce capital of the world.”
The biggest little city in the world
In Reno, Nevada, local laws allowed people to establish residency in a mere six weeks, and then expect a rubber-stamp divorce decree no matter the circumstances of their split.
The practice of seeking divorce in Reno dates back to the early 20th century, when the city shrewdly built lodging and entertainment steps from its courthouse, drawing a steady flow of “divorce tourists” looking to escape the East Coast press.
By the 1950s, by which time Reno’s divorce laws had further loosened, a thriving economy had evolved for the sole purpose of meeting divorcees’ needs while they waited — and, indeed, Reno relied on the divorce trade to keep her coffers full.
The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.
I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”
Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.
No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.
Back in the Silver State
The first divorce boom occurred right after World War II, with rates decreasing in the 1950s before beginning to rise again. The reason for post-war divorces was women getting a taste of independence while their husbands were away fighting.
The decline of the divorce rate in the 1950s owes to the idealization of the nuclear family, with rigid gender roles assigning women responsibility for staying home and raising children.
That the majority of Reno divorce-seekers were women reflects the fact that men had jobs that kept them home, though many women found work in Reno, either by choice or necessity.
New arrivals found an atmosphere of relaxed morals, where they might try their hand in a card room or go to a tavern unaccompanied by a man. Hotels and ranches offered full calendars of entertainment including roulette lessons, singalongs, live music performances and even bawdy shows.
A crop of male “drivers” made themselves available to escort the well-to-do, often partying with them long into the night. Dancing and flirting were the norm in many establishments, liquor was readily available and women’s inhibitions often vanished, especially since the system itself seemed to run on a winking disregard for social and even legal censure.
By the early 1950s, the days of casual acceptance were numbered: The Cold War brought homophobia, transphobia and a police clampdown on suspect activities, including a ban on cross-dressing performances.
An early bill to change divorce law was penned by women and published in the Women Lawyers Journal in 1952, proposing that a divorce should be granted when a court finds:
“that there is no reasonable possibility of reconciliation … and that the welfare of [the husband, wife, and children, if any] will be promoted by the divorce.”
In the years that followed, no fault laws began to change across the country. Eventually, there was no need to go to Reno to end a marriage, and Reno’s reputation faded — but it hasn’t been very long since splitting from one’s spouse could most easily be accomplished by an adventure in Reno.
The Time article is here.