Friday, June 5, 2009

Scottish Divorce History

The records of the Registrar General for Scotland, held in the National Archives of Scotland, are a source of information on the social history of Scotland, since they deal with everyday life and personal relationships. Scottish Way of Birth and Death is a project at the University of Glasgow's Department of Economic and Social History reviewing a history of civil registration in Scotland from its beginning in 1855 until World War II.

During first 10 years of registration (1855 and 1864) the average number of divorces in Scotland each year was 17. By 1905-14, the figure had increased to an average of 222 per year and an average of 458 divorces per year in 1915-24 were registered, however the numbers were so low they were not included in the General Register Office annual reports until 1920. In 1942 the figure was over 1000 for the first time.

In the 1890s, it was reputed a Scottish divorce could cost as little as £12 and very poor people could claim financial help from the Poor Law authorities if they had a good case against their spouses. The law gave equal rights to both sexes, although in practice most divorce cases were brought by women, except during and after the World Wars.

A law of 1600 barred anyone divorced on grounds of adultery from marrying the third person named in the divorce action. A child born to an adulterous couple would be illegitimate in Scotland, even if they had gone through a form of marriage after the divorce. Apparently even in the later nineteenth century jurisdiction was a problem and English courts refused to recognize the dissolution of marriages made in England but ending in Scotland, unless the couple could prove that they were genuinely living in Scotland.


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