200 years of family law

200 years of family law

Back in 1818, when Butterworths was founded by Henry Butterworth, a divorce by state could only be procured by a Private Act of Parliament. By 1857, only 317 divorces had been granted in this way and only four of those on the request of a wife. An alternative was divorce by church, but generally neither party could remarry save in limited cases (including where there had been incest, bigamy and ‘lunacy’). Then there was ‘wife selling’, as marriage was viewed as a contract that could be ‘sold on’, but thankfully this was rare.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 was therefore quite a development in this context, bringing divorce ‘to the masses’ as it were, and the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes could hear petitions for divorce, judicial separation and nullity (but also for the restitution of marital rights). Initially the numbers were small, with 1,279 dissolutions of marriage in the first ten years. But by 1900, over 10,000 maintenance and separation orders were made each year. Funding was a problem, but in 1914 a party who had less than £50 could be provided with a solicitor or barrister without charge (in some ways we seem to have gone backwards…).

So, as LexisNexis celebrates its bi-centenary, we have reflected on some of the major events for both family law as a whole and for us as leading

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About the author:

Geraldine is Head of LexisPSL Family. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1992 and was in practice for 15 years, most recently as a partner and head of the family team at Hart Brown, a large Surrey firm.

Geraldine writes for Butterworths Family Law Service and is a past editor of the Resolution Review. She has been published in the New Law Journal, the Law Society Gazette and the District Judges’ Bulletin as well as in the national press including the Times and the Telegraph.

When in practice she was a member of the Law Society Family and Children Panels, and an accredited Resolution Specialist with a focus on advanced financial provision and pensions. A past Resolution regional secretary and press officer, Geraldine also contributed chapters to the Resolution publications, International Aspects of Family Law (3rd Edition 2009) and The Modern Family (2012).