Key dates

1700-1857
Parliament passes 314 Private Acts of Parliament for divorce

1753 - Marriage Act
All marriages to take place in a church or chapel of the Church of England

1836 - Marriage Act
Allows religious nonconformists and catholics to marry in their own places of worship

1839 - Custody of Infants Act
Allowed mothers to petition for custody of their children up to the age of seven

1857 - Matrimonial Causes Act
Divorce proceedings transferred from Parliament to a court of law

1861 - Offences against the Person Act

1864, 1866, 1869 - Contagious Diseases Acts
Impose controls against prostitution, but are later repealed

1870 - Married Women's Property Act
Declares that money and property earned by a woman in marriage is her own

1873 - Infant Custody Act
States that custody must depend on needs of children

1878 - Matrimonial Causes Act
Allows women victims of violence in marriage to obtain separation orders

1882 - Women's Property Act
Allows women to have absolute control over their own money and property

1885 - Criminal Law Amendment Act
Aims to protect young women from vice

1908 - Incest Act
Defines incest as a crime

1909-10 - Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce

1923 - Matrimonial Causes Act
Makes adultery by either husband or wife the sole ground for divorce

1925 - Summary Jurisdiction (Separation and Maintenance) Act
Extends grounds on which either married partner could obtain separation

1926 - Legitimacy Act
Allows children to be legitimated by subsequent marriage of their parents

1926 - Adoption Act
Introduces adoption procedures

1929 - Ages at Marriage Act
Minimum ages raised to 16

1937 - Matrimonial Causes Act
Reforms divorce law

1949 - Adoption Act
Introduces tighter regulations in adoption procedures

1954-57 - Wolfenden Committee
Reviews laws against homosexual activity and prostitution

1959 - Street Offences Act
Stricter control on street prostitution

1959 - Legitimacy Act
Extends right to legitimacy

1967 - Sexual Offences Act (England and Wales)
Allows homosexual acts in private between men over the age over 21

1969 - Divorce Reform Act
Marital breakdown accepted as grounds for divorce

1976 - Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act

1976 - Adoption Act
Allows adopted children access to their original birth certificates

1987 - Family Law Reform Act
Removes all remaining distinctions between children born to married and unmarried parents

1994 - Criminal Justice and Public Order Act
Lowered the age of consent for gay men from 21 to 18; in 2001 it was further lowered to 16

2004 - Civil Partnership Act
Gave same sex couples the same legal rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples

Related information

Current parliamentary business on the topic of children and families

Learn about Private Acts and Bills