Divorce was permitted in cases of adultery, cruelty, or desertion without cause after two years. 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). The Act also allowed for married couples to be legally separated (as opposed to divorced), and protected the earnings and property of deserted women. To initiate a divorce a husband or wife was required to lodge a petition with the Supreme Court. A petitioner could seek relief from the Court, including a judicial separation. Following a separation, an order protecting the money and property of one party from the other could be issued by the Court.
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 Court could also formalise a divorce by issuing an order legally dissolving the marriage which allowed both parties to marry again.
We hold divorce records up to 1975, with cases recorded by the Supreme Court of South Australia. We do not hold divorce records from 1976, when responsibility was transferred to the Commonwealth Family Court.
Divorces were also known as 'matrimonial petitions'.
As with many other court records, most records relating to divorce are restricted from public access until 100 years since the case was closed. For access to restricted records up to 1975 apply directly to the Supreme Court. If the divorce occurred after 1975, contact the Family Law Court Registry.
Some indexes to Supreme Court cases are open for public access.
Records aged over 100 years may be viewed at our Research Centre.
Researching the records
Case files for divorces between 1859 and 1893 have been listed on our catalogue. Use a Keyword search in our catalogue ArchivesSearch using the name of one of the divorced people to see what records are available.
Search our hard copy index to Supreme Court matters for later cases.
Information can also be found within newspaper stories, through Trove, or in private records held by the State Library of South Australia.
Indexes and Digitised Records
This index is available in hard copy and may be viewed at our Research Centre.
Matrimonial petitions, numerical series - Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, Supreme Court of South Australia, 1859-1893 (GRG 36/51)
These records are petitions relating to divorces under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1858.
They give details of the marriage and the reasons for the divorce and include:
- petitions for dissolution of marriage
- judicial separations
- protection of earnings
- decrees absolute
- decrees nisi and nullifications of marriage
Index to GRG 36/51 Matrimonial petitions, numerical series - Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction, 1859 - 1893
Documents related to matrimonial petitions - Supreme Court of South Australia, 1859-1893 (GRG 36/23)
These records are documents filed with the courts leading up to granting a divorce. They include:
- petitions for divorce
- petitions for alimony
- record of court verdict
Other documentation relating to the divorce, and occasionally the record of court verdict, were maintained separately from the associated documents, but were given the same number.
The contents of this list are able to be found using a Keyword search in our catalogue ArchivesSearch. This copy may be useful for browsing. It is arranged alphabetically by name of the person.
Index to GRG 36/23 - Records relating to divorce 1859 - 1894