September 23, 2016 9:00 am
Following the announcement of the split of a very high-profile couple, which has generated quite a bit of media attention over the last few days, this week’s IATE Term of the Week is divorce.
The word stems from the Latin divortium, based on divertere, which became divorce in French and then later incorporated into English. Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or another competent body. A divorce is different from an annulment, which usually is a retroactive process declaring the marriage invalid. Legal separation is another legal process, where spouses remain legally married, but may formalize a de facto separation, where the couple stops cohabiting.
Historically divorce rates increase during war and other major events. In ancient Athens, divorce was liberally allowed, but a request had to be made to determine whether the reasons given were sufficient. In the early Roman culture, divorce was rare, but became more frequent as the empire grew. Later, in medieval Europe, ecclesiastical authority regulated family life, rather than civil authority. Civil courts had no power over marriage or divorce, as church authority determined the grounds for annulment. Marriage became a civil contract after the reformation; however, civil courts still relied heavily on the previous determinations of ecclesiastic courts. The move towards secularisation and liberalisation was reinforced by the individualistic and secular ideals of the Enlightenment. It was during this period that marriage was declared a purely private concern in Prussia and in the neighbouring Austria, and divorce was legalised after the French revolution. Throughout the 19th century, the trend in Europe was one of increased liberalisation and by the mid-19th century, divorce was generally granted by civil courts.
There are currently two countries in the world where divorce is not allowed: the Philippines and the Vatican City. The EU countries that have recently allowed divorce include Malta (2011), Ireland (1996), Spain (1981) and Italy (1970).
Written by Kathrine Moustgaard
Translation trainee, DA Unit, DG TRAD European Parliament
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