Divorce in the 1960s: UK

When I write or talk about my memoir “Starting to Frame” I refer to my parents’ divorce as one of the “stigmas” of the day. My parents separated in 1961. Their divorce was culminated a year or so later. But, why would divorce have been a stigma, given that nowadays a conservative estimate of the divorce rates are 42% in the UK and 48% in Canada, where I live.IMG_NEW

First, divorces were not the norm in 1960s Britain, which still operated under the 1937 Matrimonial Causes Act.  One partner had to prove against the other commission of a matrimonial “offence” of cruelty, desertion, adultery, or incurable insanity; no divorce at all was allowed within the first 3 years of marriage. It was only in 1969 that the divorce laws were changed to allow a “no fault” option. Do you see how the system was set up in a manner that conveyed the sense of shame and guilt?

To add insult to injury, the status of divorce proceedings were published in listed form and with the cause included  in the local newspaper, much like the Births and Deaths columns. Since there was a decree nisi (provisional granting) followed 6 months later by a decree absolute (final), this was public shaming twice over.

Cast against this backdrop, when my parents separated and divorced, the community around us looked at us with disapproval. One night, while we were asleep, someone tipped the contents of the dustbin (garbage bin) all over the yard. Because marital infidelity was involved on the part of my mother, I was made fun of at school and had to listen to my mother being called names that I would not wish to print on here. Would the taunting have been so virulent had it been my father who was “unfaithful?” Or might he have been given an easier ride; just being “one of the boys?”

Then, aside from the societal indignation, there was the fact that in my parents’ case, it was a fractious, highly destructive breakup that necessitated my brother and I having to take sides. This would have been hard to take regardless of the era.

Divorce is a messy business. Perhaps it doesn’t have quite the “stigma” that it used to have, but there is still a responsibility on the part of the couples involved to insure that their children do not become participants in the drama of antagonism. Trust me. Healing doesn’t come easy. “Starting to Frame” depicts the fallout from my parents’ divorce and how a measure of healing was accomplished.

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2 thoughts on “Divorce in the 1960s: UK

  1. I grew up in Sheffield in the 50s and 60s and didn’t know anyone who divorced so I’m sure it would have been quite a scandal at that time. I think it would have been tough on your mother even if it was your father who committed adultery. The gossips would have said she wasn’t “doing her duty” and come up with lots of other reasons why he strayed. A good gossip was the only interesting thing that happened in some peoples lives back then. I also believe women were stuck in unsatisfactory relations then, because they had nowhere to go, and little money. Today with all the benefits provided it’s much easier to get out of a bad marriage.

  2. You make some good points, Mary. And the problem was that as in all forms of gossip, those doing it hadn’t the slightest clue about what was really going in among the parties concerned. I agree with you that making it easier for people to move out of soured relationships was a much needed step.

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