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This Day in Georgia History

February 22, 1850

First Law for Divorce in Georgia

Gov. George Towns approved Georgia’s first law providing grounds for divorce. Prior to this legislation, a divorce could only be granted “upon legal principles” as determined by juries in two consecutive trials. Because Georgia had no statutory definition of what was included by the term “legal principles,” Georgia’s Supreme Court in 1847 interpreted “legal principles” under British common law to mean religious grounds as defined by the Church of England. The General Assembly subsequently amended the state constitution to provide that grounds for divorce be “upon such legal principles, as the General Assembly may by law prescribe.” At the 1850 session, these principles were statutorily established as:

Intermarriage “within the levitical degrees of consanguinity or affinity”
Mental incapacity at the time of marriage
Impotency at the time of marriage
Force, menace, or duress in obtaining a marriage
Pregnancy of the wife at the time of marriage without the husband’s knowledge
Adultery by either party after marriage
Willful and continuing desertion by either party for a period of three years
Conviction of either party of an offense involving moral turpitude for which the party is sentenced to prison for two years or longer

The 1850 statute further provided that in cases of cruel treatment or habitual intoxication, the jury could determine whether to grant a total divorce or a divorce “from bed and board.” Further, all other allegations would only allow a divorce from bed and board.