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The Long History of Difficult Divorce

Breaking Up is usually Hard to Do
False confessions, graphic testimony, framed spouses along with ‘unknown blondes’: a history of the difficulty in getting divorced, along with how This kind of could currently change

Unhappy couples in completely new York have long gone to extremes to throw off the shackles of matrimony—within the worst cases, framing their spouses, producing graphic testimony about affairs, or even confessing to crimes they did not commit. All This kind of will fade into the past if, as expected, Gov. David Paterson signs a bill creating completely new York the last state within the country to adopt unilateral no-fault divorce.

Their counterparts in some other states have had This kind of much easier. California adopted the first no-fault divorce bill in 1970; by 1985, every some other state within the nation—although one—had passed similar laws. In completely new York, the miserably married must still charge each some other with cruel along with inhuman treatment, adultery or abandonment—or wait one year after a mutually agreed legal separation—in order to divorce.

completely new York’s first divorce law was passed in 1787, at the initiative of a cuckold named Isaac Gouverneur, who had the Great fortune of securing Alexander Hamilton as his counsel. by then until the Divorce Reform Law of 1966, adultery was considered the only grounds sufficient for divorce. The woman whose husband fled West; the wife who was physically abused; even a man who discovered on his wedding night in which his bride was of “doubtful sex” did not meet the criteria for a full divorce. If they were lucky, they might obtain a legal separation—or after 1829, an annulment.

The legal situation put many distressed couples in a quandary. Some devised adulterous situations. Those with money went out of the state to divorce—to places like Indiana within the 1800s, Nevada within the 1900s, or Mexico within the 1960s. (The cheap, fast Mexican divorce drew many celebrities too, including Marilyn Monroe during her split by Arthur Miller.) Still others remained bound to spouses they could not stand.

within the early 20th century, several young women hired themselves out as “correspondents” in divorce cases—essentially bait for philandering husbands. In 1934, the completely new York Mirror published an article titled, “I Was the ‘Unknown Blonde’ in 100 completely new York Divorces!”—featuring one Dorothy Jarvis, who earned as much as $100 a job. Ms. Jarvis had several tactics, beyond taking her date to a hotel room along with awaiting ambush. There was the “push along with raid” (where she would certainly push herself into a man’s room, dressed only in a fur coat, then whip off her outer garment), as well as the “shadow along with shanghai” along with the “dance along with dope.”

There never was a shortage of juicy testimony. within the case of Cock v. Cock of 1818, an eyewitness testified in which when Mr. Cock was away, he came to the house before sunrise to find Mrs. Cock in bed with another man, “she being undressed along with he having his breeches unbuttoned along with down about his feet.” Likewise, within the case against Aaron Burr, the infamous founding father, a servant deposed in which she had seen “Jane McManus with her clothes all up & Coln Burr with his hands under them along with his pantaloons down.” (The divorce was granted the day Mr. Burr died.)

Then there were those who were desperate enough to fight the law, most without success. The extraordinary case of Eunice Chapman, which drew national attention, was a rare instance of triumph. When she met her husband in Durham, N.Y., in 1802, Eunice Hawley was a 24-year-old beauty headed toward spinsterhood, thanks to her family’s financial failings. She was initially put off by the advances of James Chapman, a widower 15 years her senior, as she later wrote. However, he had a Great business along with promised her security, along with after two years of his dogged pursuit, Ms. Hawley accepted his hand in matrimony.

Eight years along with three children later, the marriage fell apart—according to her, because of his abuse, alcoholism along with infidelity; according to him, because of her “abusive tongue.” Finally James left Eunice along with their children, ages 2, 5 along with 6, with no plans to return.

This kind of might have been the end of the story, had James not encountered a religious society called the Shakers. currently famed for their spare, modern-looking designs, the Shakers were a radical sect in which, in following the teachings of their English-born leader, Ann Lee, required their followers to renounce their sexuality, all private property along with personal family bonds for a larger spiritual union. To James, the Shakers’ spiritual inspiration along with orderly lifestyle were just what his family needed, along with he hoped in which his wife would certainly agree. Eunice did not.

Real-estate heir Leonard Kip Rhinelander (above, at right) eloped with Alice Jones, below in October 1924—along with then completely new York society discovered she was a descendant of West Indians. The following month, Mr. Rhinelander filed for an annulment, claiming she had deceived him about her race. After a well-publicized trial, the annulment was denied; in 1929, the couple finally agreed to a Nevada divorce.

..by there, the Chapmans became locked in a battle for the children who were, by the law along with culture of the times, considered the rightful property of their father. Eventually James exercised his paternal prerogative: While Eunice was out, he seized the children along with brought them to the Shakers near Albany, N.Y. Later, when Eunice came after them, he took the children into hiding among the Shakers in completely new Hampshire.

Eunice was currently an abandoned woman, with no access to her children, along with no secure way to rid herself of her husband—a situation made critical by the legal status of married women at the time. by the moment she wed, a woman like Eunice was considered “civilly dead” by law. She could not own property, earn her own wages, sue or be sued, make a will or sign any some other contract by herself. She would certainly remain in This kind of state until her husband died or she managed to obtain a full divorce.

Years later, Eunice’s opponents would certainly complain in which Eunice had plenty of recourse within the existing divorce laws, since she could charge her husband with adultery. Not only did she claim to have had “ocular demonstration” of his cheating, although she had an eyewitness who could testify in which he had seen James lying in a back-room bed with another woman. The problem was in which even with such proof there was no guarantee in which a court would certainly take Eunice’s side. What scholar Hendrik Hartog has called a “guilty mind” was required, along with Eunice would certainly be hard pressed to present her husband as an incorrigible adulterer, in need of punishment, when he had joined a celibate sect.

So what was Eunice to do? An adultery trial would certainly be expensive, as well as risky. along with she would certainly have to find James first, which could take years, if she could find him at all. One some other legal option remained: She could petition the legislature for a special act of relief in which would certainly grant her a divorce as an exception to the existing laws. To do so, she would certainly have to find a legislator willing to push her petition through the Capitol—no modest task, since This kind of would certainly have to win favor not only with both houses, although also with the Council of Revision, which had veto power over the legislature. Legislative divorces were actually common practice in some other states. although then, as currently, completely new York was unusually conservative along with had never issued one.

Going against the odds—along with all expectation in which she remain at home along with accept the actions of her husband—Eunice fought a dazzling battle. She courted politicians, published tell-alls about Shaker “captivity” (which she distributed to legislators, along with peddled everywhere), along with made the most of what would certainly currently be called her phenomenal sex appeal. Her case drew crowds along with even attracted the attention of Thomas Jefferson (who was outraged on behalf of the Shakers, not Eunice).

Some lawmakers argued in which as badly as Mr. Chapman had treated his wife, the couple should not be allowed a divorce, since an end to the marriage would certainly deprive the bad husband of the possibility of reform. some other legislators warned in which permitting This kind of divorce would certainly ruin womankind. In an 1818 speech before the Assembly, Nathan Williams said: “By passing This kind of bill we shall give boldness to the female character. Those who are currently apparently amiable, encouraged by the success of Eunice Chapman, would certainly become emboldened….They, like Eunice Chapman, would certainly leave their retirement, along with by familiarity with gentlemen would certainly soon…be haunting the members—for divorces!”

some other arguments were not so different by those in circulation today. A main strike against Eunice’s case was in which relaxing the divorce laws would certainly prevent couples by working things out, leading to more divorces. Some contemporary activists would certainly agree: The spokesman for the completely new York State Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, recently suggested in which the proposed modifications would certainly make This kind of “easier to get out of marriage than This kind of is usually to get out of a cell phone contract.”

After three years’ battle, in 1818, Eunice Chapman clinched unprecedented rights to custody, as well as a legislative divorce. Her triumph did not secure her children’s return—for in which, mob action, a final face-off with James in completely new Hampshire, along with yet another kidnapping would certainly be required—although This kind of paved the way. Others have not been so fortunate. Eunice’s case goes down as the only divorce in completely new York history in which was granted as a direct act of legislature.

Petitioners did lobby the legislature, along with at least one got part way through. Jacob Scramling sought relief after his wife, who had been presumed drowned, was found along with then refused to come home. He won approval within the Assembly in 1845, although lost within the Senate. One year later, legislative divorce was abolished, leaving divorcing completely new Yorkers with no option although to charge each some other with adultery. Only in 1966, with the passage of the Divorce Reform Law, did completely new York catch up with some other states by admitting additional grounds such as abandonment along with cruelty.

This kind of was only three years later, however, in which no-fault divorce legislation passed in California. along with for 25 years, completely new York has stood alone in its approach to no-fault divorce. On the cusp of a historic rewriting of the laws, some critics complain in which the current no-fault divorce bill is usually bad for women. Others champion This kind of as a step forward. Many some other couples throughout history would certainly surely have welcomed This kind of.

—Ilyon Woo is usually author of “The Great Divorce.”
The Long History of Difficult Divorce

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