Celebrating International Women’s Week: How Divorce Has Advanced Women’s Rights

March is Women’s History Month, and the week of March 8th to March 15th is International Women’s Week. During this time, people around the world take the time to acknowledge the difficult history of women’s rights, the progress that’s been made so far, and the work that’s still to come. 

One of the most critical strides made for women’s rights in the past century has been the expansion of divorce. Historically, once a woman was married, she often lost her rights to own property or make her own decisions. Furthermore, it was impossible for ladies to end their marriages to escape from dangerous partners. 

Today, that’s no longer the case. Women can walk away from a relationship whenever they want, for any reason. To celebrate International Women’s Week, let’s explore how the legalization of divorce has expanded your right to control your own life.

The History of Modern Divorce

In the US, modern divorce law emerges from the common law practices of medieval England. The original colonists brought along their ideas about when divorce was permissible and who could request it. In general, people were only permitted to get divorced if one party could prove adultery, desertion, bigamy, or impotence. 

Wives could technically request a divorce, but it was rarely in their best interests. Before 1848, women were almost entirely unable to claim ownership of property. If they petitioned for a split, they would often walk away with nothing, and their husband would retain everything. A woman who petitioned for a divorce without family who would take her in afterward would be destitute.

1848 brought the Married Women’s Property Act, making things slightly more manageable. This bill granted wives at least partial ownership of the marital assets. Specifically, they retained ownership of any property they brought into the marriage and would keep it if they divorced. This is the foundation for the modern-day idea of “separate property,” and it gave well-off women more freedom if they chose to divorce.

The Rise of No-Fault Divorces

The second half of the 19th century saw more improvements, but divorce remained complicated. Many states began implementing “omnibus clauses” that permitted a wider range of reasons for a split. These clauses allowed a judge to declare a couple divorced if they found it just and reasonable. 

Wives were still at a disadvantage, though. These divorces still required one party to be “at fault” for the split. The court often punished the party found at fault by granting their property to the other person or even assigning fines. If a woman petitioned for divorce and was found at fault, she could find herself without any way to support herself.

Furthermore, many courts were biased in favor of men and would grant husbands divorces without much fuss. However, wives had to argue their cases much more clearly or have their petitions denied. A woman who attempted to leave an abusive man only to have the petition refused was suddenly in significantly more danger. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s that divorce began to reach its modern state. That was when “no-fault” laws first began appearing in the US. With no-fault splits, neither party had to be at fault for the split. The couple could simply divorce because they didn’t want to be married anymore. More importantly, either party could request divorces, and the court couldn’t block them for lack of cause. 

Why Divorce Matters for Women’s Rights

Modern divorce laws have been invaluable for women’s rights. Combined with other essential changes, such as the right to vote and the Civil Rights Act, divorce has helped give women the freedom to live their lives. The state of modern laws ensure everyone can:

  • Escape abusive partners without being legally forced to remain in a marriage
  • Grants women equality in property ownership, so they won’t be penniless after a split
  • Pursue their personal dreams and goals even if their spouse disagrees

Essentially, today’s no-fault divorce laws and equitable property division requirements make marriage safe for women. Anyone can choose to get married or to end their marriage for any reason. As a result, no one needs to worry about being trapped with an abuser or left penniless because the courts were biased against them. 

Why to Get Help When Ending Your Marriage

While modern divorces are easier than ever, they still take work. Ladies considering a split benefit from getting appropriate help. Working with an experienced attorney can help you:

  • Understand local laws: Every state has unique divorce regulations. For example, California is a community property state, meaning that both spouses are considered to own exactly 50% of marital assets. A good lawyer will help you understand the laws in your state to get the most equitable split possible. 
  • Navigate legal requirements: Divorcing someone requires submitting a broad range of documents correctly and on time. Your lawyer will ensure you don’t miss any deadlines and meet all the legal requirements to wrap up your split quickly and efficiently.
  • Stay safe: If you’re ending your marriage because you don’t feel safe around your spouse, you need to be very careful during the legal proceedings. Experienced divorce lawyers can direct you to resources to protect yourself and help you schedule each part of your split to keep you away from a potentially dangerous partner. 

That’s why a good lawyer is invaluable when you’re taking advantage of your right to end your marriage 

Embrace Your Right to Leave 

Women worked for centuries to make divorce legal and accessible. The ability to end their marriages has given women freedom unparalleled in most other parts of history. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, you are no longer obliged to stay. 

You have the opportunity to walk away and start over. Whether your partner is abusive or you simply don’t want to be married anymore, your predecessors have ensured you can leave. You can celebrate International Women’s Week by making the most of this opportunity and scheduling your consultation with an expert divorce attorney today.

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Kaspar & Lugay, LLP is a family law firm with offices in Corte Madera, CA; Napa, CA; Walnut Creek, CA; and San Diego, CA. We also represent clients in San Francisco, Oakland, Sacramento, Pismo Beach, Contra Costa County, and Los Angeles.