The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 provided 14 grounds for the grant of a decree of dissolution of marriage (‘divorce’), including adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment and insanity. To succeed on one of these grounds, a spouse had to prove marital fault.

In reality, obtaining proof often necessitated hiring a solicitor and/or a private detective to collect evidence to support the claim (e.g. statements from witnesses, photographs and hotel receipts). Such processes usually involved great expense, making it difficult for the less wealthy to access them. The media reported the salacious and intimate details of some cases (e.g. those involving celebrities), thereby adding an element of public humiliation to the system.

The system was designed to permit genuinely injured spouses to end their marriages, but it was also intended to protect the institution of marriage by not permitting bored or disillusioned spouses to divorce at will (e.g. the law did not permit couples to consent to a divorce). (Source: Australian Parliamentary Library)

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