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Can we learn anything from a divorce in the year 1643?

In our last post, we commented that the New Year is a time for looking ahead to the future and making plans for a better life. However, in order to do this, sometimes we need to reflect on the past.

For example, in order to make extremely difficult decisions about the future when getting divorced, a person may need to seriously consider past behaviors and decisions. When it comes to child custody, for instance, any previous harmful or irresponsible incidences involving a parent will also need to be examined in order to know how to proceed with a custody plan.

With this appreciation for reflection in mind, let's take a look even further in the past. Did you know that the second ever lawful divorce in the U.S. was granted almost exactly 372 years ago?

This might seem like an inconsequential piece of trivia, but the fact is that colonial divorce helped to set the stage for modern couples to part ways and protect their individual rights.

In some ways, these first divorces look fairly similar to modern divorces. In the first cases in the U.S., the reasons given for a divorce stemmed from allegations like abandonment, cruelty or adultery. Penalties could be handed down by courts and an at-fault spouse could be ordered to give up property or pay a fine.

Of course there were distinct differences in these early divorces, including extremely severe penalties such as banishment from the country or placement in the stocks. Additionally, the availability and formality of spousal support and child custody were still a long time away. Since those first divorces were granted, the laws and trends in marriage have changed considerably.

Learning a little bit more about the first divorces in this country may be of some comfort to people who are going through this extremely difficult event now. Not only does it highlight the exceptional strides that have been made in terms of protecting the rights of individuals in a marriage, but it can also be a powerful reminder that people struggling through a divorce are not alone.

Source: Smithsonian.com, "The Second Divorce in Colonial America Happened Today in 1643," Laura Clark, Jan. 5, 2015

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