Changing divorce laws

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I have recently finished watching BBC Four's A Very British Romance presented by Dr Lucy Worsley.  In the final episode, Lucy looked at the record numbers of marriages which broke down, during World War II, as people's sexual behaviour and attitudes became more permissive and free, as they lived day to day not knowing if it would be their last.  Lucy informed viewers that during the war, the divorce rate multiplied by ten- a fact of which I had been unaware. 

She went on to say that the divorce law at the time, was very different and the only way to get divorced was to cite insanity, desertion or adultery.  The first two were apparently rarely granted, and the quickest way to get divorced was to cite adultery.  The question was, how to prove it when it either had not taken place, or you did not want to shame your spouse who had done the deed.

A novel by A P Herbert, called Holy Deadlock, was published in 1934, addressing this dilemma and provided a solution.  It revealed the problem of unhappy couples being shackled together, desperate to divorce without being able to do so.  The story apparently involves the way to take part in a staged adultery, to satisfy the courts, without being accused of the serious offence of collusion.  This involved key characters, namely the private detective, hired by one party to spy on the other, the hotel manager, who would take a fee to say the spouse had spent the night at the hotel with a member of the opposite sex, and the chamber maid who would say she found the couple in bed together.  These people would all need to be relied upon, to testify in court.  It became known as the "Brighton Quickie"!

This made me realise how different the divorce laws are now, as it is now generally an administrative procedure and relatively easy to obtain a divorce.  My colleague, Christine Plews, has recently set out the ways in her blog, found here.  I have never acted for a client where it has not been possible to divorce, when this was the desired outcome. 

I know what book will now be on my Christmas list – Holy Deadlock!