Since Gough Whitlam’s passing, there has been a lot of public reflection on the achievements of his government. One of those achievements was the reform of family law and the introduction of no fault divorce under the Family Law Act. Previously under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 (Cth) it was necessary to show one of the grounds in section 28 before a marriage could be dissolved. Those grounds included adultery, refusal to consummate the marriage, habitual cruelty, rape, sodomy, bestiality, habitual drunkenness (or intoxication by sedatives or narcotics) etc etc. Attempted murder or GBH of your spouse were also grounds. No wonder private detectives mourned the introduction of the new no fault law.

Australia was not the only country which had fault based divorce. In the late 1950’s in the US state of Missouri, one of the grounds for divorce was the committing of “indignities” (basically mental or physical cruelty). In one case a husband obtained a divorce on the basis that he had a right in Stone County “to be master in his own house” and to “fish and hunt with his friends at reasonable times without interference from the wife” and the right to trade livestock without the wife’s intervention. The trial judge found infringement of these rights was an “indignity”.

The Springfield Court of Appeals overturned the decision in Moore_v_Moore and also noted that for divorce purposes the appellation “hillbilly” used by the wife in respect of the husband’s relatives was, in Southern Missouri, not generally an insult or indignity….but was an expression of envy!

Creative commons acknowledgement for the photograph.

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