Story: Divorce and separation

Ending easy access to divorce

Ending easy access to divorce

Canny couples used the 'restitution of conjugal rights' provision to get a quicker divorce. Conjugal rights meant returning to the marital home and duties (rather than sex). Once such an order had been issued by a judge and ignored by the ‘guilty’ party, the ‘innocent’ party could obtain a divorce, rather than wait five years to divorce on the grounds of desertion. This use of the law outraged judges, who believed that couples cooperated with each other to gain a speedy divorce.

The restitution of conjugal rights provision was removed in 1907 (as this cartoon, printed in the New Zealand Freelance in August that year, illustrates). It was reinstated in 1920, and limited in 1953, so that it no longer provided a quicker divorce. Use of the provision dwindled rapidly after this.

Using this item

National Library of New Zealand
Reference: New Zealand Free Lance, 17 August 1907, p. 12

Permission of the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Divorce and separation - Growth in divorce: 1898–1979', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 June 2024)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 8 Nov 2018