Divorce’s Greatest Hits: 500 Years of Untying the Knot

A sad lady who needs a London divorce solicitor

The best divorce lawyers in London come with half a millennium of experience at their disposal. We look at just a few of the 500 years of divorce cases that created the wealth of experience found today in the legal 500 family law.

Divorce has come a long way since the first time it was requested by Henry VIII in 1527 — and it’s not been an easy road. Over the centuries, divorces have left in their trail webs of intrigue, lies, death, murder and vicious arguments that have been followed closely by the media and, in turn, by the public. Where affairs of both the heart and the wallet are involved, things will never be simple. To match such a complex requirement, some of the best divorce lawyers in London have evolved… but it hasn’t happened overnight.

From Tudor times to the present day, we look at three divorces from centuries gone by which shaped the courtrooms and London divorce solicitors of the 21st century.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn: the Original Divorce

Henry VIII could've used a modern London Divorce Solicitor

It’s nearly five hundred years since Henry VIII decided to break ties with the Catholic Church so that he could divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. What Henry actually sought, however, was annulment — something that the Pope would not allow and that he subsequently awarded himself. This is why, instead of simply divorcing Anne Boleyn, he accused her of adultery and had her beheaded. Rather than opening the floodgates of divorce as many feared, it was still many centuries later that an official divorce law was created, the legal 500 family law list was created and the names of the best divorce lawyers in London and New York became infamous for their efficacy in the courtroom.

King Henry VIII wasn’t the only noble who decided that sentencing his spouse to murder was simpler than divorce. In 1631, a hundred years after Henry sent Anne to the chop, the Earl of Castlehaven was brought in front of the grand duty by his wife for rape and sodomy. His many crimes included hiring his male lovers as his servants and giving them full control of the household, marrying off his eldest daughter to one of his lovers/servants and holding down his wife while she was raped by one of his servants. This wasn’t enough to get his wife a divorce… but it was enough to have the Earl sentenced to death. Thankfully for women everywhere, London divorce solicitors nowadays don’t have to resort to capital punishment to get their clients a divorce.

Caroline Norton: the First Woman to Fight for Divorce

Caroline Norton the first woman to get a divorceCaroline Norton, a name now remembered by few, was the first woman to fight for a divorce. Born at the turn of the 1800s, she was attractive, witty, intelligent and impoverished. To help her family, she agreed to marry George Norton: the ambitious son of a peer and MP for Guildford. With completely different political views — George was a Tory while Caroline favoured social reform — it was doomed from the start.

Under the hands of George, Caroline was badly beaten multiple times to the point where servants had to intervene. Envious of her intelligence and close friendship with the Home Secretary and future Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne. George Norton sued him and cited adultery. This was dismissed through lack of evidence, but the furious George threw her out and banned her access to her children. Unlike the London divorce solicitors of today who are skilled in defending women and their rights, the laws back then didn’t even come close to protecting women, who were regarded as a man’s property to do with as he liked. Even her children weren’t hers under the law; they belonged to the man.

Caroline, already an established and well-known writer, used her existing klout to produce a series of political pamphlets. These were aiming to educate the public about the plight of mothers and to persuade MPs to support her cause. In 1837, the first pamphlet was published under the title ‘Observations on the Natural Claims of a Mother to the custody her Children as Affected by the Common Law Rights of the Father’. It argued that children under the age of seven should remain with the mother and that where older children should live would be decided by the court, not the father.

A series of further pamphlets circulated privately amongst her influential friends followed, before The Infant Custody Act was passed — a victory for women everywhere. Today, we know that it takes the best divorce lawyers in London to create fair child care arrangements and it’s hard to imagine that women used to be so undervalued. Caroline was the catalyst for this change and should be remembered as a figurehead of women’s rights.

Daryl and Mark: Making History Twice in the UK

If you haven’t heard of Catherine Norton, you almost certainly won’t have heard of Daryl and Mark. While they may not be as important historically, they were two of the first to experience the murky waters that is same-sex divorce. The British couple were among the first down the aisle when same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK, but only six months later, they called it quits and sought an annulment.

Pride participants fighting for equality in marriage and divorce

Luckily, neither children nor adultery were involved, or they could have had a far greater legal battle on their hands. It’s appropriate that same-sex marriage is now legalised in the UK and across the US, but the laws surrounding grounds for divorce are still catching up. Whether your relationship is same-sex or heterosexual, the curious law that adultery doesn’t count as grounds for divorce if it’s with a member of the same sex is causing much grievance. Meanwhile, the battle over children is intense and not as easy to decide as in a heterosexual relationship, where the courts historically have tended to favour the woman, although progressive moves are being made.

There’s also the issue of biology. Often, if a same-sex couple has children, it’s using the sperm or ovum of one of the partners, plus a donor, which leaves one partner out in the legal cold when it comes to divorce rights. Without legal rights over their children set in place by the courts, the non-biological parent can find themselves cut off from their child far more readily than were the marriage heterosexual. Some of the best divorce lawyers in London and those who are in the legal 500 family law specialise in same-sex marriage and divorce — and to say this is required would be an understatement. Due to overlooked elements of the law, the rules around same-sex marriage and divorce are constantly changing and evolving. We may have marriage equality, but divorce equality still has a way to go.

Thankfully, we no longer have to take someone ‘til death do us part and risk them taking that too literally because it’s easier than a divorce. But, the legalities around divorce still have centuries more of evolution to undergo. London divorce solicitors are at the nexus of this evolution, with the city dubbed the divorce capital of the world. It is indeed a city which seems to attract high-profile cases — perhaps because of its role in the world’s economy, perhaps because of its rich history. If you’re searching around for legal representation, make sure you choose one of the best divorce lawyers in London, as history is made in the divorce courts every day.

If you’re considering a divorce, contact KMJ Solicitors today for a free, no-obligation consultation. As a legal 500 family law listed firm, we’re one of the best divorce lawyers in London to handle your case with sensitivity and efficacy.

Clayton spent five years working in family law with a firm in Australia before moving to the UK in 1999. He deals with all aspects of family law, specialising in all family matters, offshore trusts, company structures, international law, prenuptial agreements, high net worth cases and cohabitation law.