What is Divorce?

Legal Definition
Divorce, also known as dissolution of marriage, is the termination of a marriage or marital union, the canceling and/or reorganizing of the legal duties and responsibilities of marriage, thus dissolving the bonds of matrimony between a married couple under the rule of law of the particular country and/or state. Divorce laws vary considerably around the world, but in most countries divorce requires the sanction of a court or other authority in a legal process, which may involve issues of alimony (spousal support), child custody, child visitation / access, parenting time, child support, distribution of property, and division of debt. In most countries, monogamy is required by law, so divorce allows each former partner to marry another person; where polygyny is legal but polyandry is not, divorce allows the woman to marry a new husband.

Divorce should not be confused with annulment, which declares the marriage null and void; with legal separation or de jure separation (a legal process by which a married couple may formalize a de facto separation while remaining legally married) or with de facto separation (a process where the spouses informally stop cohabiting). Reasons for divorce vary, from sexual incompatibility or lack of independence for one or both spouses to a personality clash.

The only countries that do not allow divorce are the Philippines, the Vatican City and the British Crown Dependency of Sark. The Vatican City is an ecclesiastical state, which has no procedure for divorce. Countries that have relatively recently legalized divorce are Italy (1970), Portugal (1975), Brazil (1977), Spain (1981), Argentina (1987), Paraguay (1991), Colombia (1991*), Andorra (1995), Ireland (1996), Chile (2004) and Malta (2011).
-- Wikipedia
Legal Definition
The dissolution of a marriage contracted between a man and a woman, by the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction, or by an act of the legislature. It is so called from the diversity of the minds of those who are married; because such as are divorced go each a different way from the other. Ridley's Civ. & Eccl. Law, pp. 11, 112. Until a decree of divorce be actually made, neither party can treat the other as sole, even in cases where the marriage is utterly null and void for some preexisting cause. Griffiths v Smith, D. C. of Philadelphia, 3 Penn. Law Journal, 151, 153. A decree of divorce must also be made during the lifetime of both the parties. After the decease of either the marriage will be deemed as legal in all respects. Reeves" Dom. Rel. 204; 1 Bl. Com. 440. See Act of Pennsylvania, March 13, 1815, §5.

2. Divorces are of two kinds; 1. a vinculo matrimonii, (q. v.) which dissolves and totally severs the marriage tie; and, 2. a mensa et thoro, (q. v.) which merely separates the parties.

3. - 1. The divorce a vinculo was never granted by the ecclesiastical law except for the most grave reasons. These, according to Lord Coke, (Co. Litt. 235, a,) are causa praecontractus, causa metus, causa impotentiae, seu frigiditatis, causa affinitatis, et causa consanguinitatis. In England such a divorce bastardizes the issue, and generally speaking, is allowed only on the ground of some preexisting cause. Reeves' Dom. Rel. 204-5; but sometimes by act of parliament for a supervenient cause. 1 Bl. Com. 440. When the marriage was dissolved for canonical causes of impediment, existing previous to its taking place, it was declared void ab initio.

4. In the United States, divorces a vinculo are granted by the state legislatures for such causes as may be sufficient to induce the members to vote in favor of granting them; and they are granted by the courts to which such jurisdiction is given, for certain causes particularly provided for by law.

5. In some states, the legislature never grants a divorce until after the courts have decreed one, and it is still requisite that the legislature shall act, to make the divorce valid. This is the case in Mississippi. In some states, as Wisconsin, the legislature cannot grant a divorce. Const. art. 4, is. 24.

6. The courts in nearly all the states have power to decree divorces a vinculo, for, first, causes which existed and which were a bar to a lawful marriage, as, precontract, or the existence of a marriage between one of the contracting parties and another person, at the time the marriage sought to be dissolved took place; consanguinity, or that degree of relationship forbidden by law; affinity in some states, as Vermont, Rev. Stat. tit. 16, c. 63, s. 1; impotence, (q. v.) idiocy, lunacy, or other mental imbecility, which renders the party subject to it incapable of making a contract; when the contract was entered into in consequence of fraud. Secondly, the marriage may be dissolved by divorce for causes which have arisen since the formation of the contract, the principal of which are adultery cruelty; wilful and malicious desertion for a period of time specified in the acts of the several states; to these are added, in some states, conviction of felony or other infamous crime; Ark. Rev. Stat. c. 50, s. 1, p. 333; being a fugitive from justice, when charged with an infamous crime. Laws of Lo. Act of April 2, 1832. In Tennessee the husband may obtain a divorce when the wife was pregnant at the time of marriage with a child of color; and also when the wife refuses for two years to follow her husband, who has gone bonafide to Tennessee to reside. Act of 1819, c. 20, and Act of 1835, c. 26 Carr. Nich. & Comp. 256, 257. In Kentucky and Maine,, where one of the parties has formed a connexion with certain religionists, whose opinions. and practices are inconsistent with the marriage duties. And, in some states, as Rhode Island and Vermont, for neglect and refusal on the part of the husband (he being of sufficient ability) to provide necessaries for the subsistence of his wife. In others, habitual drunkenness is a sufficient cause.

7. In some of the states divorces a mensa et thoro are granted for cruelty, desertion, and such like causes, while in others the divorce is a vinculo.

8. When the divorce is prayed for on the ground of adultery, in some and perhaps in most of the states, it is a good defence, 1st. That the other party has been guilty of the same offence. 2. That the husband has prostituted his wife, or connived at her amours. 3. That the offended party has been reconciled to the other by either express or implied condonation. (q. v.) 4. That there was no intention to commit adultery, as when the party, supposing his or her first husband or wife dead, married again. 5. That the wife was forced or ravished.

9. The effects of a divorce a vinculo on the property of the wife, are various in the several states. When the divorce is for the adultery or other criminal acts of the husband, in general the wife's lands are restored to her; when it is caused by the adultery or other criminal act of the wife, the bushand has in general some qualified right of curtesy to her lands; when the divorce is caused by some preexisting cause, as consanguinity, affinity or impotence, in some states, as Maine and Rhode Island, the lands of the wife are restored to her. 1 Hill. Ab. 51, 2. See 2 Ashm. 455; 5 Blackf. 309. At common law, a divorce a vinculo matrimonii bars the wife of dower; Bract. lib. ii. cap. 39, §4; but not a divorce ti mensa et, thoro, though for the crime of adultery. Yet by Stat. West. 1, 3 Ed. I. c. 84, elopement with an adulterer has this effect. Dyer, 195; Co. Litt. 32, a. n. 10; 3 P. Wms. 276, 277. If land be given to a man and his wife, and the heirs of their two bodies begotten, and they are divorced. a vinculo, &c., they shall neither of them have this estate, but he barely tenants for life, notwithstanding the inheritance once vested in them. Co. Litt. 28. If a lease be made to husband and wife during coverture, and the husband sows the, land, and afterwards they are divorced a vinculo, &c., the husband shall have the emblements in that case, for the divorce is the act of law. Mildmay's Case. As to personalty, the rule of the common law is, if one marry a woman who has goods, he may give them or sell them at his pleasure. If they are divorced, the woman shall have the goods back again, unless the husband has given them away or sold them; for in such case she is without remedy. If the husband aliened them by collusion, she may aver and prove the collusion, and thereupon recover the goods from the alience. If one be bound in an obligation to a feme sole, and then marry her, and afterwards they are divorced, she may sue her former husband on the obligation, notwithstanding her action was in suspense during the marriage. And for such things as belonged to the wife before marriage, if they cannot be known, she could sue for, after divorce, only in the court Christian, for the action of account did not lie, because he was not her receiver to account. But for such things as remain in specie, and may be known, the common law gives her an action of detinue. 26 Hen. VIII. 1.

10. When a divorce a vinculo takes place, it is, in general, a bar to dower; but in Connecticut, Illinois, New York, and, it seems, in Michigan, dower is not barred by a divorce for the fault of the husband. In Kentucky, when a divorce takes place for the fault of the husband, the wife is entitled as if he were dead. 1 Hill. Ab. 61, 2.

11. - 2. Divorces a mensa et thoro, are a mere separation of the parties for a time for causes arising since the marriage; they are pronounced by tribunals of competent jurisdiction. The effects of the sentence continue for the time it was pronounced, or until the parties are reconciled. A. divorce a mensa et thoro deprives the husband of no marital right in respect to the property of the wife. Reeve's Dom. Rel. 204-5. Cro. Car. 462; but see 2 S. & R. 493. Children born after a divorce a mensa et thoro are not presumed to be the husband's, unless he afterwards cohabited with his wife. Bac. Ab. Marriage, &c. E.

12. By the civil law, the child of parents divorced, is to be brought up by the innocent party, at the expence of the guilty party. Ridley's View, part 1, ch. 3, sect. 9, cites 8th Collation. Vide, generally, 1 Bl. Com. 440, 441 3 Bl. Com. 94; 4 Vin. Ab. 205; 1 Bro. Civ. Law, 86; Ayl. Parerg. 225; Com. Dig. Baron and Feme, C;-Coop. Justin. 434, et seq.; 6 Toullier, No. 294, pa. 308; 4 Yeates' Rep. 249; 5 Serg. & R. 375; 9 S. & R. 191, 3; Gospel of Luke, eh, xvi. v. 18; of Mark, ch. x. vs. 11, 12; of Matthew, ch. v. v. 32, ch. xix. v. 9; 1 Corinth. ch. vii. v. 15; Poynt. on Marr. and Divorce, Index, h. t.; Merl. Rep. h. t.; Clef des Lois Rom. h. t. As to the effect of the laws of a foreign state, where the divorce was decreed, see Story's Confl. of Laws, ch. 7, §200. With regard to the ceremony of divorce among. theJews, see 1 Mann. & Gran. 228; C. 39. Eng. C. L. R. 425, 428. And as to divorces among the Romans, see Troplong, de l'Influence du Christianisme sur le Droit Civil des Romains, ch. 6. p. 205.
-- Bouviers Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
The legal separation of man and wife, effected, for cause, by the judgment of a court, and either totally dissolving the marriage relation or suspending its effects so far as concerns the cohabitation of the parties. Atherton v. Atherton, 181 U. S. 155, 21 Sup. Ct. 544, 45 L. Ed. 794; Miller v. Miller, 33 Cal. 355; Cast v. Cast, 1 Utah, 112. The dissolution is termed "divorce from the bond of matrimony," or, in the Latin form of the expression, "a vinculo matumoniij" the suspension, "divorce from bad and board," "a mensa et thoro." The former divorce puis an end to the marriage; the latter leaves it in full force. 2 Bish. Mar. & Div. § 225. The term "divorce" ls now applied, in England, bath to decrees of nullity and decrees of dissolution of marriage, while in America it is used only in cases of divorce a mensa or a vinculo, a decree of nullity of marriage being granted for the causes for which a divorce a vinculo was formerly obtainable in England.
See also
-- Black's Law Dictionary
Legal Definition
A judicial severance of matrimonal bonds.
-- Ballentine's Law Dictionary