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divorce, partial or total dissolution of a marriage by the judgment of a court. Partial dissolution is a divorce “from bed and board,” a decree of judicial separation, leaving the parties officially married while forbidding cohabitation. Total dissolution of the bonds of a valid marriage is what is now generally meant by divorce. It is to be distinguished from a decree of nullity of marriage, or annulment, which is a judicial finding that there never was a valid marriage.
Although created by a contract between husband and wife, marriage is a legal relation of a particular nature with certain mutual rights and obligations, determined not by agreements but by the general law. In a sense, then, the state has an interest in every marriage. The parties cannot themselves officially terminate the marital relation by a contract of separation.
Jurisdiction over Divorce
Grounds for Divorce
The Divorce Decree
A decree of divorce is valid only if the court rendering the decree has jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is in the main based on the domicile of the parties. An absolute divorce, as contrasted with a decree of nullity, takes effect from the date of the decree. By the divorce decree, the custody of the children is usually given at the discretion of the court to one of the parties, the welfare of the children being the principal consideration. In recent years, fathers in divorce proceedings have fought for equal custody rights, calling into question the long-standing tradition of favoring the mother in custody battles. New developments in divorce law allow joint custody of children, as well as visitation rights for grandparents and other relatives.
The wife may retain the husband's name, although in most states she may choose to resume her maiden name. Both parties are usually at liberty to remarry, although this rule is not invariable, and a time limit within which the parties may not remarry is sometimes imposed. In most jurisdictions, one spouse may be entitled to alimony payments from the other at the discretion of the court.