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Relationships: Key dates

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Impose controls against prostitution, but are later repealed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

2013 - Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
In 2013, Parliament passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act which introduced civil marriage for same-sex couples in England and Wales. The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales took place in March 2014

Related information

Current parliamentary business on the topic of children and families

Learn about Private Acts and Bills