Why you should care
Because it’s always good to know your options.
In some ways, it’s easier to leave the European Union than your marriage if you live in England. Brexit may have only required the ticking of a box, but couples in England still must articulate a coherent reason for exiting their marriage (Mexit?). That’s because in England (and Wales and Northern Ireland), unlike every state in the U.S., there is no law permitting no-fault divorce, and so seeking a divorce in the Land of Hope and Glory — in the absence of accepted grounds like abandonment or adultery — can be an exercise in gloriously creative grievance airing.
Fortunately, the notoriously stiff-upper-lipped English have learned to flap their gums quite a bit in divorce petitions, which have become a treasure trove of petty accusations and strange excuses, from the complaints about wives who spitefully and repeatedly serve tuna fish casserole or who “without justification flirt with any builder or tradesman,” to those about husbands with unusual body odor or who commandeer the remote control, “endlessly flicking through channels and failing to stop at any channel requested by the petitioner.”
Truly bizarre justifications for divorce, however, do not end with the creativity of the irreconcilably aggrieved English; many can be found in the U.S. as well — some written into law and some merely into legend.
Some grounds for divorce are even more bizarre.
One of the beauties of federalism in the U.S. is a patchwork quilt of laws that can include some oddly colored squares — sometimes for no other reason than they’ve always been oddly colored. Several U.S. states, like Mississippi and North Carolina, for example, still recognize a cause of action for “alienation of affection,” whereby you can actually sue a third party for damages if they cause the failure of your marriage — almost like a golden parachute for the victims of cheating.
When it comes to divorce, there are some similarly strange laws still on the books in many states. In Tennessee, for example, you may be released from the bonds of matrimony if you can prove your spouse attempted to kill you “by poison or any other means showing malice.” And in Delaware, one of the grounds for annulling a marriage is if it was the result of “a jest or dare.”
Some grounds for divorce are even more bizarre, although many may represent the offshoots of jest themselves. Cathy W. Meyer, a divorce-support expert for About.com, says she’s come across everything from a Kansas law allowing divorce on the grounds that your spouse doesn’t get along with your parents to a Vermont law requiring women to get their husbands’ permission for false teeth that also provides justification for divorce if they fail to do so. Such oddities, including the claim that in Tennessee a man can divorce his wife only if he leaves her with “10 pounds of dried beans” and other sundries, provide ripe fodder for legal blogs, tabloids and listicles, but it is not always easy to separate obscure fact from celebrated fiction — and this former lawyer could find no statutory support or official confirmation for the oft-repeated Vermont, Kansas and Tennessee claims. Which is not to say they do not exist in some obscure case or local ordinance, but they are most likely, dare we say it, old wives’ tales.
Which may not matter, given the increasing prevalence of no-fault divorce, which, says Meyer, is often encouraged by divorce attorneys since very few people are suing for divorce on more traditional bases like infidelity or insanity these days — much less on even more unusual grounds. Even if on the books, “I doubt seriously a man in Vermont,” says Meyer, “would be able to divorce his wife for getting false teeth in this day and age.”