Prior to 1858, divorce in South Australia was possible through a private act of Parliament or through the ecclesiastical (church) courts. Divorce was authorised under the Act to Amend the Law relating to Divorce and Matrimonial Causes in South Australia 1858 (the Act). This legislation permitted divorce in cases of adultery, cruelty or desertion without cause after two years.

The Act allowed for married couples to be legally separated (as opposed to divorced), and protected the earnings and property of deserted women. It also established the Supreme Court as the jurisdiction to hear divorce cases.

The Married Women’s Protection Act 1896 gave married women the rights to separate from their husbands and to retain custody of their children.

The divorce process

To initiate a divorce a husband or wife was required to lodge a petition with the Supreme Court. A petition could seek one of a number of possible forms of relief from the Court. These included a judicial separation which formalised an earlier de facto separation of a couple. Following a separation, an order protecting the money and property of one party from the other could be issued by the Court. The Court could also formalise a divorce, by issuing an order legally dissolving the marriage and providing for both parties to legally marry again.  

The Family Law Act 1975 (Commonwealth) transferred responsibility for divorce to the Commonwealth Family Court and established the principle of no-fault divorce.

Divorce records

The involvement of the courts, and the need for legally acceptable evidence, has influenced the divorce records held by State Records.  The most common divorce records held include affidavits, legal petitions and verdicts of the court.

Divorce records commonly contain statements from the parties about the state of the marriage and the reasons for the divorce, in the form of depositions.

State Records holds a number of series relating to divorces and matrimonial legal cases including:

  • GRG36/23 Associated filed records relating to divorce (1859-1894)
  • GRG36/51 Matrimonial petitions, Supreme Court of South Australia (1859-1893)

Special Lists for these series are available online.

Access to divorce records

Most divorce records are restricted from public access for up to 100 years, and indexes to these records can be restricted for the same period. These restrictions are in place to protect the privacy of the individuals involved, and do not necessarily prevent an individual gaining access to information about themselves. State Records can advise on how to request access to restricted records.

Other sources

Further information about divorces may be found within newspaper accounts of cases and in private records of the husband or wife held by the State Library of South Australia. For divorce records after 1976, researchers should contact Family Court of Australia.

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