Divorce in the 1920s

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Prior to 1858 the church courts would decide if married couples should live apart, and could also be asked to judge whether the marriage was invalid. After 1858 an Act was passed that allowed husbands to divorce their wife on the grounds of the wife’s adultery however wives could only divorce the husband if there was also cruelty, bigamy, sexual crime or desertion for 2 years.

It wasn’t until 1925 that the law was changed so that a wife could divorce her husband just for adultery.

In the case of Frances Jones v Frank Jones, Frank had left Frances in September 1921 and had set up home with another woman. Frances petitioned for divorce in May 1924, however by that time Frank had already had one child with the other woman, born 1922, and had another on the way, born December 1924.

As this occurred prior to the change of law in 1925 Frances had to wait for 2 years desertion before she could divorce Frank and she had to survive these years with little support for her 4 young children.


Ultimately maintenance was awarded to Frances in the sum of £24 per month until the end of her life. Maintenance is not finalised until 15th June 1926 and is backdated to the date of the Decree Absolut, 5th August 1925. No mention is made of how Frances supported herself and the 4 children for the 4 years between when Frank left and the divorce was finalised. The maintenance of £24 per month is worth around £3600 per month now.

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