Skip to main content

Wedlock or deadlock

Although separation might be granted for a range of reasons, including cruelty and habitual drunkenness, divorce could only take place if there had been adultery by either spouse.

This state of affairs was satirised by the humourist and MP, A P Herbert in his 1934 novel 'Holy Deadlock'.

Matrimonial Causes Act 1937

In 1937 the law was changed by the Matrimonial Causes Act which Herbert had introduced as a Private Member's Bill. The Act extended the grounds for divorce to include desertion for over three years, cruelty and incurable insanity. Herbert's Act led to a significant increase in the annual number of divorces, though the process was still expensive.

1969 Divorce Reform Act

The 1969 Divorce Reform Act followed recommendations for reform by the Law Commission and made marital breakdown a reason for divorce. It also removed the necessity for either partner to prove the other at fault in order to end the marriage.

Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976

Further campaigning by the women's movement achieved further change in the 1976 Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act. This provided legal protection to female victims of domestic violence.

Glossary link

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Lords debates the Third Reading of the Divorce Reform Bill