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5 strange divorce laws still on the books in the U.S.

The first divorce in the territory that would become the United States occurred in Massachusetts in 1639. Since then, each state has drawn up its own laws regulating divorce, child custody, spousal support, etc. While most family laws are similar from state to state, the fact that each state’s political leaders developed these rules separately means that some states have unique and, frankly, strange laws regarding divorce.

These laws may have made sense when lawmakers passed them. But decades later, they seem odd or possibly amusing (if maybe a little sexist) to us in 2021. Here are five examples of strange divorce-related laws.

  • In Delaware, if one or both spouses got married on a dare or as a joke, that is grounds for an annulment
  • Several states will not finalize a divorce if one of the spouses is a pregnant woman
  • In South Dakota, if the person seeking the divorce cannot find their spouse to serve them the divorce summons, they can publish the summons as an ad in the newspaper instead
  • Alabama law gives family court judges the power to forbid a divorced woman from keeping her ex-husband’s last name or initials
  • Before no-fault divorce became available in every state, a spouse had to accuse their husband or wife of something that was grounds for divorce in their state. In Mississippi, that includes fairly common grounds like bigamy and cruelty but also includes “natural impotency, insanity or idiocy.”

These types of laws may not be enforced anymore, but you never know when your divorce case might trip over an arcane statute. An experienced divorce attorney who knows the law inside and out can be invaluable.