The history of divorce

The history of divorce:

Most little girls dream, at one point, of finding her Prince (or Princess) Charming and living ‘happily ever after’. The notion is a romantic one, but unfortunately the reality is far from fanciful. According to Statistics Canada from 2001 to 2010 there were approximately 71,000 divorces per year in Canada. Those numbers are quite significant when you consider there are 34 million people in the country and there are 140 – 150,000 marriages per year.

Marriage is one of society’s oldest institutions. Defined as, “the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.”, marriage is unfortunately not infallible. Events happen and people change and more often than not they change in different ways and end up losing the connection they once shared. It is when relationships become unrecognizable that people often decide that divorce is the best option. This, however, has not always been an option.

Historically, the concept of divorce has been wide and varied and in some instances illegal. Marriage is recognized by both the state and religious institutions and as such, divorce is similarly recognized by both institutions. One of the oldest recorded pieces of evidence of divorce could be traced back to Greco-Roman times. In fact, Athenians saw divorce in a very liberal light. The process of divorce underwent a magistrate who will decide whether or not the grounds are sufficient for the ending of the marriage.

Romans also recognized that marriage ought to be free. In effect, either the husband or the wife can renounce their marriage at any point in time. Roman society, in contrast to Athenian society, viewed divorce as something to be frowned upon. Marriages were governed by the creed “matrimonia debent esse libera” or “marriages ought to be free.” Although Roman civil law allowed divorces, the society and family guaranteed that it only happened during grave circumstances.

After the fall of the Roman Empire marriages became governed strictly under ecclesiastical law. The Church considered matrimony as a sacrament and the divorce rate became significantly lower under its influence. What we consider as divorce these days was not tolerated and strictly prohibited during the Medieval Ages. Couples were separated; they were allowed to live separately, but their relationship as husband and wife continued.

Annulments were also performed under ecclesiastical grounds. It distinctly stated that, “By marriage the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being of legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything” (two become one). During these times the husband and wife became one entity and that entity could only be separated if the marriage was improperly entered into.

The Secularization of Europe and America paved the way for a society that is more receptive of divorce where marriages became a matter of civil law. Civil authorities granted couples “divorce a vinculo matrimonii” or “divorce from all bonds of marriage.” The grounds and requirements for divorce was adopted from ecclesiastic courts and divorce was treated as contrary to public interest. So, only when one has violated the sacred vow of marriage can the divorce be granted. If there is even a hint of complicity or cooperation between husband and wife ie. they purposely created the situation for them to get a divorce, then they would not be granted freedom from the bonds of marriage.

Divorce in Canada was uncommon before World War II. During that time, Canada had the lowest divorce rates in the Western world. Believe it or not this is not due to obedient husbands alone, but because social and religious leaders deemed divorce as a detriment to the family and society. It wasn’t until 1968 that divorce became accessible. In fact before WWII adultery was the only grounds for divorce in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario soon following suit by creating divorce courts during the interwar period.

While divorce may be a relatively straightforward practice here in Canada there are some strange customs around the world involving this state of affairs. For Inuit couples divorce is relatively simple, especially if there aren’t any children involved. All that is needed to dissolve a marriage is for the couple to start living separately. In Saudi Arabia, a woman can get a divorce if her husband doesn’t give her coffee. The Quran has a strange marriage law for divorced couples who have worked out their differences. It states that a divorced couple may remarry each other if and only if the wife first marries another man, they have sexual intercourse with each other and then this second man divorces her.

Whatever the reason for the separation we can be thankful that our current laws allow for this choice. The only constant in life is change and not everyone changes at the same pace. For our own happiness, and that of those around us, this can sometimes be the best choice of action.

Have you ever went through a divorce?