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200 years of family law

Date:18 APR 2018
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Head of Lexis®PSL Family

Back in 1818, when Butterworths was founded by Henry Butterworth, a divorce by state could only be procured by a Private Act of Parliament. By 1857, only 317 divorces had been granted in this way and only four of those on the request of a wife. An alternative was divorce by church, but generally neither party could remarry save in limited cases (including where there had been incest, bigamy and ‘lunacy’). Then there was ‘wife  selling’, as marriage was viewed as a contract that could be ‘sold on’, but thankfully this was rare.  

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 was therefore quite a development in this context, bringing divorce ‘to the masses’ as it were, and the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes could hear petitions for divorce, judicial separation and nullity (but also for the restitution of marital rights). Initially the numbers were small, with 1,279 dissolutions of marriage in the first ten years. But by 1900, over 10,000 maintenance and separation orders were made each year. Funding was a problem, but in 1914 a party who had less than £50 could be provided with a solicitor or barrister without charge (in some ways we seem to have gone backwards…).

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So, as LexisNexis celebrates its bi-centenary, we have reflected on some of the major events for both family law as a whole and for us as leading publishers of family law, with the highlights over the past 200 years detailed below:

1818 Butterworths was founded by Henry Butterworth

1857 The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 introduced the first divorce law of general application

1863 Jordan Publishing was founded by Richard Jordan

1910 Rayden’s Practice and Law in the Divorce Division of the High Court of Justice and on appeal therefrom published (the predecessor to Rayden & Jackson)

1923 The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 enabled either spouse to petition the court for a divorce on the basis of adultery

1937 Grounds for divorce expanded by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1937 to include cruelty, incurable insanity and desertion 

1970 Family Law journal was founded

1973 The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 comprehensively reformed family law

1980 The first specialist family law case series, Family Law Reports (FLR), was published

1983 Butterworths Family Law Service was first published

1985 Clarke Hall and Morrison on Children was first published

1989 The Children Act 1989 received royal assent

1992 The first edition of the Family Court Practice (the Red Book) was published

2000 The House of Lords handed down its judgment in White v White [2000] 2 FLR 981

2005 Civil partnerships were introduced by the Civil Partnership Act 2004

2009 The first online family law practical guidance service, Lexis®PSL Family, was launched

2010 The Family Procedure Rules 2010 were introduced

2013 Same-sex marriage was introduced by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

2014 The single Family Court came into effect, replacing the previous three-tier structure

2016 LexisNexis acquired Jordan Publishing, and the family law portfolios of both companies were combined

2018 Bi-centenary of LexisNexis UK

This analysis was originally published on the LexisPSL Family blog. Click here to request a free 1-week trial to Lexis PSL Family.