This index contains both transcripts and images of the original entry books where suits for divorce and matrimonial causes were filed. The transcripts provide the following information about your ancestor:
Year of petition
Party number, which refers to the filing order of the parties involved. For example, the party number for the petitioner is 1. For a divorce case where only two parties are involved, the respondent, or individual the suit of divorcement is brought against, would be party number 2. Some entries have as many as eight individuals named as defendants.
The image of the original index will often include additional information, such as the spouse’s name and a file number assigned to the action. The entries are organized chronologically and grouped under the first letter of the petitioner’s surname. Please note that not all names were recorded in full and many first and middle names were abbreviated in the original index. Additionally, if the petitioner and the defendant shared the same last name, the defendant’s surname would be abbreviated to simply the first letter of the last name. As such, you should try searching by both forename and surname separately for each individual represented in the suit.
As all the entries in this index are handwritten, you should search by alternate spellings of names to account for any potential errors in both the original recorded spelling and in its transcription. Entries may list additional surnames that an individual was known by. This is denoted by the word ‘orse,’ meaning otherwise known as, in the index. Some entries may also be cross-referenced with earlier or later petitions made by those parties.
Once you have located your ancestor’s entry in this index, you can use the date and file number to order the case notes from The National Archives by following the link provided in the Useful Links & Resources section.
The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 created the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, which assumed jurisdiction over matrimonial issues that had formerly been seen to by the ecclesiastical courts. Under the Act, it was substantially easier for a man to petition for a divorce than it was for a woman. A man would be able to bring a petition forward on the grounds of adultery alone, whereas a woman would need to couple the charge of adultery with another offence, such as bigamy or desertion. Both parties were allowed to petition for legal separation on the grounds of cruelty, desertion, or adultery. In bringing forward a suit for adultery, a husband was required under the Act to name the adulterer as a co-respondent. A wife bringing forward a similar suit would not be required to name any other individuals. Additionally, the Act overturned the classification of adultery as a criminal offence.
The original entry books are held by The National Archives under the series title J78, Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes and Supreme Court of Judicature, High Court of Justice, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division: Principal Probate Registry: Indexes to Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Files, and are made available here under license. The full records are filed with The National Archives under title J77, Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, later Supreme Court of Judicature: Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Files.
The full entries provide summary details for various petitions brought before the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes. In addition to petitions for divorce, there is a range of petitions represented in these files, such as those relating to restitution of conjugal rights, judicial separation, legitimacy, and protection of earnings. Once you have located your ancestor’s entry in this index, you can search online at The National Archives website for your ancestor’s case notes, which will often contain any affidavits and decrees, as well as the petition itself. However, since these records have not been digitised, you will need to place an order to obtain a copy of the case notes. You can access The National Archives online by following the link in the Useful Links & Resources section. Please note that there will be a fee associated with orders placed through The National Archives.