Matrimonial Causes Act 1923

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 established the principle of equality in divorce and marked a significant success for post-war feminist campaigning groups.
Penny Russell

Prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1923, women in England and Wales found it harder than men to get a divorce. This was because the grounds for men and women petitioners were different: under section 27 of the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, a husband divorcing his wife could obtain a divorce on the basis of his wife’s adultery alone, whereas a wife could not: her husband’s adultery had to be aggravated by incest, bigamy, rape, sodomy, bestiality, cruelty or desertion of two years.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923 removed this double standard and equalised the grounds for divorce enabling a wife to obtain a divorce on the basis of her husband’s adultery alone.

Black and white photo of a person removing a wedding bandThis equalising measure was brought about by the clear-sighted and prompt actions of the post-war, all woman, feminist campaign group, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC).

The full version of this landmark is written by Penny Russell.


Learn More

Harold L. Smith, The British Women’s Suffrage Campaign, 1866-1928 (2nd edn, Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, 2007)

Parliament, ‘Changes in Divorce: The 20th Century’ (Living Heritage: Relationships

Parliament, ‘Divorce Since 1900’