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Jurisdiction over Divorce

In England, divorce was originally under the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. These courts followed the canon law rules. They could grant a divorce from bed and board and could pass on the original validity or nullity of the marriage, but could not grant a total divorce from the marriage bond. This power lay only in Parliament. In 1857, by act of Parliament, judicial courts succeeded to the jurisdiction over nullity and partial dissolution and were given the added power to grant total dissolution of the marriage. In the United States, where ecclesiastical courts were never established, the matrimonial law of England applied by these courts was never received as part of the common law. Consequently, suits for divorce can be brought under authority of statute only. The statutes usually confer upon equity courts jurisdiction over divorce. The power to legislate on divorce belongs to the states and not to the federal government, and each state has unique laws regarding divorce. The state of residence at the time of divorce, not the state in which a couple was married, determines what laws apply.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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