Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Why are Vital Records Vital to Genealogists? Part Nine -- Divorce, Separation and Annulment and the laws that govern legality

Unfortunately, divorces, separations and annulments may also be a part of our ancestors' lives. But as I have noted previously, they only recently became common. Before the 19th Century and the 20th Century in the United States, all of these marital options were rare and become very difficult to discover. In some countries, civil government registration as opposed to church records has a definitive beginning. For example in England, civil registration began in 1837 and before that only the churches maintained birth, marriage and death information. Genealogists researching in England should be aware of this date. Likewise, records of births, deaths and marriages only began throughout England in 1538 with an edict from King Henry VIII.

Genealogical research into situations where divorce or annulment are suspected usually involve resort to court records or town records in New England. It is also important to remember that marriage, divorce and annulment affected property rights and in a larger sense the legal position of women in any society. Divorce laws are intractably connected to women's rights to property and separate maintenance. Annulment differs from divorce in that the annulment declares that the marriage never legally existed ab initio therefore any legal implications of the marriage were returned to their state before the invalid marriage occurred.

In the United States, the dates when the civil governments of the states and counties began keeping records of births and deaths vary across the country from east to west. Some of the western states, such as Arizona, did not keep consistent birth and death information on a state-wide basis until the 1920s. On the East Coast, whether or not the records were kept depends on the individual towns and counties. Marriage records are more consistently available because of the impact marriage has on property ownership. The Research Wiki has information on the status of the availability of vital records for each state and county in the United States and most of the English Counties and parishes.

Unfortunately, ascertaining the earliest dates for records of divorces and annulments is not quite that easy. Marriage records are usually separately maintained, but divorce and annulment records are included in the general court or civil records on a very local basis. In very recent times, you can sometimes find divorce statistics, but the actual records are scattered into the records of the courts handling divorce actions and annulment actions may be even more difficult to find.

Historically, divorce was illegal except in exceptional circumstances and was only used only in cases of adultery, desertion, bigamy and in some cases, impotence. During colonial times the northern colonies, such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony set up judicial tribunals to handle the few divorce cases that were allowed but in the South, divorces were all but prohibited entirely for any reason. During colonial times, the various legislative bodies had jurisdiction over divorce matters but after independence the United States began the transition of transferring that authority over to the judiciary.

During the 1800s various states began passage of married woman property laws. The first of these was passed in Connecticut in 1809 allowing women to write wills. Similar statutes were passed in the other states in the 1850s. The New York Married Women's Property Act of 1848 was used as a model by the other states. Here is copy of the law from the New York Laws 307, Chapter 200 in 1848 as quoted by the Library of Congress "Married Women's Property Laws:"
AN ACT for the effectual protection of the property of married women. 
Passed April 7, 1848. 
The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly do enact as follows: 
Sec. 1. The real and personal property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents issues and profits thereof shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female. 
Sec. 2 The real and personal property, and the rents issues and profits thereof of any female now married shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband; but shall be her sole and separate property as if she were a single female except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted. 
Sec. 3. It shall be lawful for any married female to receive, by gift, grant devise or bequest, from any person other than her husband and hold to her sole and separate use, as if she were a single female, real and personal property, and the rents, issues and profits thereof, and the same shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts. 
Sec. 4. All contracts made between persons in contemplation of marriage shall remain in full force after such marriage takes place.
As you can see, if such a law were necessary, prior to the law's passage, women did not have many property rights and certainly had little or no leverage in a divorce proceeding. If you were ever required to read Nathan Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, you can begin to see the complexity of the issues involved in marital relationships in the American colonies.

Women's property rights in England were finally addressed by the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 (45 & 46 Vict. c.75). The law applied to England, Wales and Ireland (until Irish independence) but did not apply to Scotland. Prior to the passage of the Act the law in England with respect to women's rights could be described as follows quoting from Wikipedia: Married Women's Property Act 1882:
English law defined the role of the wife as a ‘feme covert’, emphasizing her subordination to her husband, and putting her under the ‘protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord’. Upon marriage, the husband and wife became one person under the law, as the property of the wife was surrendered to her husband, and her legal identity ceased to exist. Any personal property acquired by the wife during the marriage, unless specified that it was for her own separate use, went automatically to her husband. If a woman writer had copyright before marriage, the copyright would pass to the husband afterwards, for instance. Further, a married woman was unable to draft a will or dispose of any property without her husband’s consent.
This was the basis for the law in America. The dissolution of a marriage, whether initiated by the husband or wife, usually left the divorced females impoverished, as the law offered them no rights to marital property.

It is possible that marriages, divorces but less likely with annulments, that notices of the action may appear in the local newspapers, especially those newspapers that printed legal notices on a regular basis.

Separation is only a legal issue if it affects property rights in the course of a civil court action. Therefore any genealogical evidence of a separation where there is no formal divorce proceeding will likely only be discovered through the examination of the personal records of the family.

For information on locating court records, the Research Wiki has extensive links beginning with United States Court Records.

Here are the previous installments of this series.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What is History? What is Genealogy? Developing the Concepts -- Part Three

After much thought, I have concluded that genealogy is not history and history does not include genealogy. To quote from page 99 of the following book:

Carr, Edward Hallett, and R.W Davies. What Is History ?: The George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures Delivered in the University of Cambridge, January-March 1961. London [etc.]: MacMillan, 1986.
History, therefore is a process of selection in terms of historical significance. To borrow Talcott Parson's phrase once more, history is 'a selective system' not only of cognitive, but of casual, orientations to reality. Jus as from the infinite ocean of facts the historian selects those which are significant for his purpose, so from the multiplicity of sequences of cause and effects he extracts those, and only those, which are historically significant; and the standard of historical significance is his ability to fit them into his pattern of rational explanation and interpretation. 
 The genealogical facts are, in a real sense, preselected. As genealogists we are not out fishing in an ocean of facts, we are searching for very specific facts that apply to individuals and their families. Because both historians and genealogists utilize the some of the same source documents, it is the process of selection that makes all the difference. Hence, the goals of history, especially academic history and genealogy are not only different but in opposition.

I was recently speaking to an historical writer who is in the process of compiling a soon to be published important history. The author was appalled that anyone would consider the book to be a genealogy. It is true that genealogy may be supplemented by stories and placed in context by reference to historical events, but that alone does not make it into what is considered history. For the same reason, there is a significant segment of the history community that does not consider biography to be history.

Quoting another book,

Stern, Fritz Richard. The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present. New York: Meridian Books, 1956.

at page 293, "Historical thinking is always teleological." Teleology is a philosophical doctrine that final causes, design and purposes exist in nature. History deals with processes over time. Genealogy deals with snapshots. The difference, although not obvious, has to do with the goals and expectations of the historian as opposed to the goals and expectations of the genealogist. As a genealogist, I approach historic (old) documents for the information they can supply to me about my family. I am not interested in why the documents were created or the governmental processes that required the document's creation, only whether or not the document is credible and supplies me with information of very specific type. I use a broad spectrum of documents for the purpose of providing context to my ancestor's lives. For example, if I discover that my ancestor fought in the U.S. Civil War, I may use the information from the records to find additional records or to confirm basic facts about my ancestor's life. In doing this, I have no intention of writing a general history of the war or even of one battle. My goal is not to determine the basic causes of the war. My focus, as a genealogist, is to provide background support for my ancestor's life.

I recently wrote that if genealogists wish genealogy to be accepted as a valid academic pursuit, then they must garner enough support for the idea to convince universities to offer advanced degrees in genealogy. Absent that interest, genealogy is forced to languish in the realm of hobbies and pastimes.

Now, don't get the idea that just because genealogy is not history that it is not a valid, challenging and worthwhile pursuit. There are many good reasons for embarking on an intense study of genealogy and genealogical methods. From my perspective, what genealogy lacks is not a well-developed methodology, but a vigorous philosophy. History has a well developed historiography, but there is no concomitant genealography. Genealogy also differs from prosopography. Those genealogists who yearn for more academic genealogical atmosphere, need to focus on creating a valid genealography.

Why are Vital Records Vital to Genealogists? Part Eight -- Marriage and the laws that govern legality

Public Domain,
It is very common for genealogists to focus on the categories of birth, death and marriage almost exclusively. As I assist people in finding their ancestors I often hear questions about finding one of these types of records. Unfortunately, some genealogists think that once the birth, death and marriage dates are found that is the end of the research. From this limited standpoint, failure to find one or more of these records is a calamity and is considered by some to be a brick wall. In these cases, it is important to realize that vital records are only one way of identifying an ancestor. They are an important factor in specifically identifying people, but not the only way to do so.

Marriage has always affected the property ownership interests of the married parties to some extent or another. It is this direct relationship between marriage and property that makes marriage information so valuable to genealogical researchers.

The marriage date recorded in a record may or may not reflect the existence of a "legal" marriage. For genealogical researchers, determining whether or not an ancestor who lived with a marriage partner and had children was actually married can be an important issue. However, the reality for a researcher is that the laws governing marriage can vary from state to state, country to country and even within the states and countries by religion or cultural heritage.

Marriage laws date back into antiquity. Some of the most ancient recorded laws deal with marriage and property. It is imperative that genealogists researching back in time into Europe and other parts of the world understand the changes that occur as they move back in time and into different countries, religions and cultures. The relationships between family members is technically called a kinship system. The web of relationships in some cultures are far from adequately represented by the commonly used pedigree chart. The core concept of a "marriage" is that the union of a man and a woman is considered by the society to be binding and as having an effect on property ownership.

There are several online glossaries of genealogical terms that include many references to marriage. Here are some useful links.
Some researchers focus on finding a "marriage certificate." The document above is a marriage certificate from Russia dating from 1907. But this type of document is not the only one created that evidences a marriage relationship. To do adequate genealogical research it is necessary to understand the marriage laws and customs of the countries where your ancestors lived. But here, I will focus on the legal documents and laws that have governed marriages in the Unites States.

Before I begin a general discussion of marriage laws, it is important to know that in the United States we have two major systems of law, one inherited from English Common Law and one from Spanish Civil Law. The differences between these two systems is particularly noteworthy as they pertain to marriage laws. The states that have adopted provisions from the civil law for marriage are often known as "Community Property Law" states. There are nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Alaska is also an opt-in community property states. In Community Property states, a marriage makes the parties to the marriage equal partners with full ownership of all of the property in what is called the "marital community." The marriage partners are said to own an undivided interest in the whole of all of the property obtained or co-mingled during coverture. Ownership of property in a community property states is distinctive from the way marital property is owned in the other states although the processes of getting married and divorced are very similar.

Because immigrants came to America from a huge variety of countries with a variety of customs within those countries, it is very difficult to generalize marriage customs even from the earliest colonial times. The basic process involved negotiating a dowry, followed by the betrothal or engagement and then the wedding. As I have pointed out previously, the steps in this process were recorded by churches and at some point, civil authorities. For many European countries civil registration began in stages only in the 1800s. Earlier records of births, deaths and marriages are usually found only in church records. However, in some parts of Colonial America principally New England, some of these events were recorded in town records.

It would be nice if we could just go to some centralized register and find all the marriages recorded, but that did not happen until well into the 20th Century in the United States. Marriage records where they were kept by civil authorities are scattered in all of the counties across the country. As of 2013, the United States had 3,007 counties and 137 county equivalents for a total of 3,144 places to look for marriage information. See Wikipedia: County (United States). When you consider that many of these counties have changed their boundaries over time, researching marriage records in no small task. The records could be archived in different locations depending on the historical circumstances of the changes. Researchers should also remember that the states themselves have changed over the years beginning with the arrival of the first Europeans.

Some of the legal considerations of the marriage relationship include whether or not a common law marriage was or is recognized as valid, the age by which consent of the parents is required for a marriage, whether or not the states require a medical examination and the waiting period before a marriage license will be issued. The Cornell University Law School has prepared a useful chart showing the application of the law in each of these categories. See Marriage Laws (

When a man and a woman live together for a certain period of time as if they were married and have not gone through a formal marriage, the relationship is often referred to as a "common law" marriage. However, one reason for starting with the discussion about Community Property States is that they generally do not recognize common law marriage. However, there are common law states that do not recognize such marriages and community property law states that do. From the standpoint of a genealogical researcher, if the state where your ancestors lived recognizes a common law marriage and your ancestors lived in such a relationship, you may not find any evidence of a formal marriage. But even if the state did not recognize a common law marriage, your ancestors may have lived together as man and wife without the sanctity of the marriage laws.

In the United States presently, the age at which a person may get married without parental consent is almost uniformly 18 years of age. But this may have varied in the past and it is not uncommon to discover that one or even both of the married couples lied about their age in order to marry. But you might want to check the law in your ancestors' state at the time in question. The age required could have been as high as 21 years of age or, in the case of Mississippi, for example, 17 for a male and 15 for a female. There are also states, such as Wisconsin and Wyoming where the age is 16 years old.

It is not always a part of the legal system, but many church marriages required a formal announcement of the marriage on one or more occasions before the wedding could proceed. These announcements are usually called "wedding banns or bans" and could have been required as long as a month or more before the actual wedding. Sometimes the custom of the church required multiple announcements on successive Sundays or other meeting day. The existence of these customs point out the importance of learning about the cultural, religious and legal environment during the time your ancestors lived. Within the same community, there could be dramatically different marriage customs depending on the ethnic or religious background of your relatives.

If the marriage ended, either through a divorce or the death of one of the partners, the inheritance laws or laws of distribution of assets in a divorce also vary considerably by the time period involved and the geographic area. For example, in Arizona, the surviving spouse, without a will, inherits all of the deceased's half of the community property and of course, owns their own half even if they have children. But if the surviving spouse has children from more than one marriage, the laws get more complicated. This is the case across the entire country.

During different time periods in America, some marriages were absolutely prohibited. The most common prohibition was between closely related individuals, usually this applied to siblings and first cousins. These prohibitions applied not only to church weddings but were commonly incorporated into civil law. Interracial marriages were prohibited in many areas of America and were only abolished in the 20th Century. There are still areas in the United States where interracial marriages are not accepted.

To summarize, the laws concerning marriages vary over time and from place to place. The also vary according to the ethnic background of your ancestors. A careful researcher will take the time to investigate the particular laws that apply to his or her ancestors. Here is a selection of books that will be helpful in researching applicable marriage laws.

Albin, Mel, and Dominick Cavallo. Family Life in America, 1620-2000. St. James, N.Y.: Revisionary Press, 1981.
Hartog, Hendrik. Man and Wife in America: A History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Jacobson, Cardell K, and Lara Burton. Modern Polygamy in the United States Historical, Cultural, and Legal Issues. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Katz, Sanford N. Family Law in America. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Koegel, Otto E. Common Law Marriage and Its Development in the United States. Washington [D.C.]: J. Byrne & Co., 1922.
North, S. N. D, and Desmond Walls Allen. Marriage Laws in the United States, 1887-1906. Conway AR: Arkansas Research, 1993.
Snyder, William L. The Geography of Marriage; Or, Legal Perplexities of Wedlock in the United States. New York; London: Putnam, 1889.
United States, Bureau of War Risk Insurance, and United States. Digest of the Law Relating to Common Law Marriage in the States, Territories, and Dependencies of the United States. Washington: Govt. Print. Off., 1919.

Here are the previous installments of this series.

RootsMagic adds connections to Ancestry continues to add connections to the major online database companies. Its popular RootsMagic program now shows record hints from and They have announced that record hints from both and will appear some time this year. But what is more important to users of the RootsMagic program is the ability to share data. Presently, RootsMagic shares data with's Family Tree. But the new announcement indicates that it will soon share data with also.

The ability to view hints on the major genealogical database programs is extremely helpful in focusing your research on specific people in your family tree. But the big issue has always been the ability to share data between the various programs. If you have a family tree on and another on and yet another on and finally another on, it can be a real challenge to keep these family trees updated and synchronized. RootsMagic is moving towards being the mechanism that may finally allow these four huge programs to share data between family trees. From my standpoint, I have long had family trees on, and I have also had a family tree on since they implemented that feature. I use record hints from all four programs. Now, there is starting to be a more efficient pathway for moving information from one of these programs to another through using RootsMagic. This is especially true if you use one or another of these programs as your primary database. explains the details of the new connections in the page illustrated above. Click here to see more information about the connection with indicates that more information about the connection with will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

BYU Family History Library starts series of webinars

There are two links on the home page for the Brigham Young University Family History Library that take you to the new online series of free live webinars from the Library itself. If you tune in you can hear the webinar, ask questions and benefit from a wide selection of topics and presenters. Here is the page that shows the three types of classes: webinars, videos and in-person classes.

Each of the links takes you to a schedule of upcoming classes. Here is the current webinar schedule. New webinars will be posted on a monthly basis. We are planning on having two or three a week. All of the completed webinars are also posted here. Some of the shorter presentations are recorded but not broadcast live.

You will probably note that both my wife and I will be adding webinars to the collection. This list of resources will grow rather rapidly because of the huge pool of available presenters we have at the Brigham Young University.

By the way, if you clicked fast enough just as this post was published, you could catch the end of Terry Dahlin's presentation.

The Fate of Family Tree Maker - Relives at MacKiev

Family Tree Maker, the program abandoned by has found a new home with and it looks like a few old standby programs have also. The programs listed on their website include the following:

If you have been around computers and especially Apple computers as long as I have, you will undoubtedly recognize some or all of these programs. 

So, who is MacKiev? According to Wikipedia: Software MacKiev:
Software MacKiev is a company specialized in consumer and educational software development and publishing for Macintosh, Windows, and mobile platforms. Headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Software MacKiev has its main workshop in Kiev, Ukraine.
The company's products are described as follows:

In addition to developing Macintosh, Windows, iOS, and Android software under contract for other software companies, Software MacKiev publishes its own consumer and education software titles including HyperStudio (Acquired from Sunburst Technologies in 2007) and KID PIX (Acquired from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2011). The company also publishes selected titles under license from World Book, Inc. and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 
Additional titles:
  • The Print Shop for Mac - a desktop publishing software package
  • Kid Pix Deluxe 3D - a drawing, painting and presentation program for kids (Mac and Windows editions)
  • Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing - Ultimate Mac Edition - a touch typing tutor for QWERTY and DVORAK keyboards
  • Roger Wagner's HyperStudio 5 - a multimedia authoring tool (Mac and Windows editions)
  • World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia (Mac/Win hybrid)
  • ClueFinders Adventures - math, logic and problem-solving for 3rd-6th grade students, presented like a Saturday morning cartoon adventure series. (Mac/Win hybrid)
  • Edmark Thinkin' Things - logic and music skills for children 4–8 years old
  • Dr. Seuss's ABC
  • Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham
  • Dr. Seuss's The Cat
In 2016, Software MacKiev acquired the Family Tree Maker brand from[
According to, the company was established in 1997 and incorporated in Massachusetts. Current estimates show that Software MacKiev has an annual revenue of $1,400,000 and employs a staff of approximately 12.

What is interesting is that Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing Version 18 is in and is listed as being sold by Encore Select Holdings, LLC, a sports collectibles company. Kid Pix 3d is being sold at by MacKiev, but it is also being sold by Encore. Interesting. Apparently, these companies license the software and keep it alive and for sale. Good idea. also has a long list of Frequently Asked Questions about Family Tree Maker. I would strongly suggest that if you have the program, you review this page. It will likely answer most of your concerns.

Why are Vital Records Vital to Genealogists? Part Seven -- Strategies for Locating “End of Marriage” Records

By Jennifer Pahlka from Oakland, CA, sfo - LOL Just divorced. And no, that's not my car., CC BY-SA 2.0,
It is unfortunate but some marriages end in annulment, divorce or dissolution. While searching for an ancestor's marriage records, you may run across information that seems to point to the fact that the ancestor was married more than once and it appears that the spouse or spouses in the first marriages did not die. In these cases, you can suspect a divorce.

Locating records concerning a divorce, separation or annulments is one of the more challenging aspects of genealogical research. As is the case with any formal court proceeding such as bankruptcy, probate, and lawsuits of any kind, the records of the action are mainly found in the civil courts but in some cases and more frequently in the past, these records may also be found in churches.

When beginning your search for divorce records it is important to understand that the terminology may change from location to location. In Arizona, for example, there are no "divorce" laws. All of the references to divorce are referred to as "marital dissolution" laws and procedures. So searching for a "divorce" court in Arizona may be complicated.

In beginning any research it is important to understand that divorce is a relatively recent phenomena. In England, for example, from 1552 when the first divorce in England occurred until 1857, there had been only 324 divorces in the entire country. The reason why such few divorces were granted is found in this explanation from the Wikipedia article, "Divorce in England and Wales."
Prior to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, divorce was governed by the ecclesiastical Court of Arches and the canon law of the Church of England. As such, it was not administered by the barristers who practised in the common law courts but by the "advocates" and "proctors" who practised civil law from Doctors' Commons, adding to the obscurity of the proceedings. Divorce was de facto restricted to the very wealthy as it demanded either a complex annulment process or a private bill, either at great cost. The latter entailed sometimes lengthy debates about a couple's intimate marital relationship in public in the House of Commons.
The first divorce granted in the English Colonies in America was in 1643 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Before the 20th Century, divorces were rare and in some areas illegal. In areas predominated by a single religion, it is possible that even with civil consent, marriages could still be prohibited by the church. There are still entire countries today that prohibit divorces.

The earliest divorce records in America could be found in the legislative record due to the fact that to obtain a divorce the petitioners had to appeal to that body. Due to, in part, to the difficulty of obtaining a divorce it was not uncommon for either the husband or the wife to abandon the family. From time to time I encounter ancestors who moved out of the family home with no evident arrangements being made. The ancestor then appears in a different place or country with a new "spouse."

As I mentioned above, marriage records can either be maintained by civil authorities or by ecclesiastical (church) authorities or both. Even though divorces have both civil and ecclesiastical aspects, the records will be found primarily in court records. From time to time and for some religious organizations you may find divorce records among the other records of the churches, but divorce has been primarily considered a civil action.

In order to find divorce records, it is important to understand the court system of the area where the divorce may have occurred. Throughout the United States divorce laws were highly restrictive until well into the 20th Century. So called "no-fault" divorces were introduced in Russia shortly after the Russian Revolution beginning in 1918. In the United States, California was the first state to enact "no-fault" divorce laws in 1969. I was in law school in Arizona when the law was enacted in 1973. You can find a list of the states and the dates when no-fault divorces were allowed by legislative action in an article from the National Council on Family Relations entitled, "The Effective Dates of No-Fault Divorce Laws in the 50 States."

Prior to the enactment of no-fault divorce laws, the various states had vastly differing rules and laws concerning divorces. One of most common was a lengthy residence requirement. For this reason, many couples who wished to obtain a divorce traveled to states or countries with more liberal divorce laws such as Nevada or Mexico. Even then, there were individual states that did not recognize divorces obtained in Nevada or Mexico. Recognition of divorce judgements among the states in the United States is matter of the application of the "full faith and credit" clause of Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, but this provision does not apply to divorces obtained in other countries. Whether or not a divorce in one country is recognized in another country, such as the frequently used Mexican divorces, were governed by the treaties that existed at the time between the country granting the divorce and the country where the people obtaining the divorce were residents. In the United States, it also depended on the state where the couple lived.

Divorce is usually governed by the laws of the place where the couple resides at the time the divorce is filed in the court. Each state in the United States and every other country that recognizes divorce actions has its own very specific rules and laws. Genealogists who find the need to investigate divorce records will need to become familiar with the law in the specific area where they are researching. Whether or not a divorce action is commenced in a "fault" or "no-fault" state, there are specific "grounds" or reasons for the divorce that have to be met. These grounds differ from state to state and from country to country. Here is a summary of the possible grounds for a divorce from Wikipedia: Grounds for divorce (United States):
A no fault divorce can be granted on grounds such as irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, irreconcilable differences, incompatibility, or after a period of separation, depending on the state. Neither party is hold responsible for the failure of the marriage. On the other hand, in fault divorces one party is asking for a divorce because they claim the other party did something wrong that justifies ending the marriage. Several grounds for fault divorce include adultery, cruelty, abandonment, mental illness, and criminal conviction. There are, however, additional grounds that are acceptable in some states such as drug abuse, impotency, and religious reasons.
Genealogical researchers must also consider the fact that a court action for obtaining a divorce can be either contested or non-contested. This means that the parties to the divorce can either agree that a divorce is necessary or not. Even before a divorce is granted, some states require reconciliation efforts including formal counseling or arbitration. All of these procedures create records that can be searched. 

One of the best places to start when searching for divorce records is to search by state in the Research Wiki. For each state there is an article addressing which court may have the records. Research into divorce records is essentially research into court records. The process can be broken down into several steps.

Step One: Determine where the divorce was likely to have been obtained. This requires some additional research into other states or countries where the parties may have gone to obtain the divorce.

Step Two: Research which court had jurisdiction over divorce actions in the particular area where the divorce action may have been filed. The court handling divorce cases may have changed over time.

Step Three: Search any indices that may exist or in the alternative search the court files for the time period in which the matter may have been heard. It is important to realize that the action may have been contested and spread out over a period of months or even years.

Step Four: Be sure and search any land and property records for the filing of post-decree land transfers or sales.

It is also a good idea to search the large online genealogical database companies' records also. Each state has a different way of accessing old court records, in some cases, they are still maintained on paper in the various court houses but statewide digital records are becoming more common.

Now it is important to write about annulments and separations. A marriage annulment is retroactive. This means that it is considered to determine that the marriage never took place. However, this is another area where investigation of the specific laws of the place in force at the time is necessary. In some cases, the annulment may only apply to the marriage from the date of the action. This is an important distinction and may affect the status of property owned, bought or sold during the interim when the annulment was not applicable.

One of the most common grounds (reasons) for an annulment is that one or the other of the parties was already married at the time of the marriage. This means that the marriage was prohibited as a matter of law. Other reasons for annulment overlap with those which can be a basis for a divorce. They include forced consent where one of the parties maintains that the marriage was entered into by fraud, threats or duress. In some cases annulments are granted for underage marriages. Other situations that can be the basis for an annulment include mental incapacity or illness or the physical incapacity to consummate the marriage or impotence.

In many annulment cases, the question is whether or not the marriage is void as a matter of law or merely voidable. If the marriage was void, it was not legally valid in the first instance. Whereas a voidable marriage is one where the reason for the annulment is not evident until after the marriage. It is important to understand that an annulment whether done through the courts or through the church, is a formal procedure that is recorded by the court or church. As is the case with divorce laws, the laws and procedures governing annulments differ from state to state, country to country and from one religious denomination to another.

Separation is a middle ground in a divorce proceeding. A marital separation can be informal or formal. There are usually no records of informal marital separations unless the parties make some written record in personal papers, letters or diaries. On the other hand, a formal separation is a step towards divorce (marital dissolution). In the course of divorce proceeding it is possible that the court can order any degree of separation and/or require one of the parties to refrain from contacting the other party except under certain circumstances.

Here are the previous installments of this series.