If the Court found grounds for a divorce a decree nisi was granted. If the decree nisi was not rescinded or appealed, the decree became absolute after three to six months.
Original divorce case papers for the years 1873-1967, 1969-1971, and 1976 are held in the NSW State Archives Collection at our Western Sydney reading room.
Copies of divorce case papers for the years 1972-1975 are held on microfilm reel at our Western Sydney reading room.
For 1972-1975, we may also hold a copy of the Decree Nisi. Please see NRS 13498 (listed below) for more information.
For access to divorce case papers not held by us contact the Supreme Court of NSW at:Supreme Court of New South Wales
GPO Box 3, SYDNEY NSW 2001
Telephone: 1300 679 272
Divorce records after 1976
For records of divorce after 1976 contact the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.Federal Circuit Court of Australia
National Enquiry Centre
Address: GPO Box 9991, PARRAMATTA NSW 2124
Telephone: 1300 352 000
To find and view Divorce case papers held by us follow the steps in the table below.
|1||Depending on the year of the divorce:
Original case papers (1873-1971, excluding 1968)
To view the records in our reading room, click on the small black clipboard icon to the right of the item title and submit your pre-order. To purchase a copy, click on the small black shopping cart icon.
Case papers on microfilm 1972-1975
You will need to provide the divorce case number and year of divorce. You can consult the Family Law (Divorce) Index, 1873-1976 on microfiche in our Western Sydney reading room to obtain these details
Complete a pre-order using the 'item not in catalogue' instructions. The records can be saved to your USB using our digital scanners in the reading room. To order a copy, use the Divorce section in the Online Copy Service Form.
The Matrimonial Causes Act, 1873
New South Wales was the last Australian colony to implement divorce legislation with the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1873.
Powers of the Court
The Act allowed for the Supreme Court to hear causes, dissolve marriages, authorise judicial separation, or order the restitution of matrimonial rights. A jury could determine matters of fact. Appeal to a full court was available.
The Court was empowered to order the payment of maintenance, decide the custody of children and award costs.
Grounds for divorce
Initially only men could petition for divorce solely on the grounds of adultery. For women requesting divorce adultery was an additional clause to causes such as bigamy, cruelty or desertion.
The case for adultery required the other party as a co-respondent. Husbands could claim damages from co-respondents and also against the property of their wife.
Amendments to the 1873 Act
There were many amendments to the legislation until the introduction of the Family Law Act 1975 (Commonwealth) established the Federal Family Court and effectively closed the Family Law Division of Supreme Court of NSW.
The major amendments to matrimonial causes legislation from 1881 to 1976 are listed below:
|1881||Wives were granted the right to divorce husbands solely on the grounds of adultery.|
|1884||Maintenance was provided for wives in cases where husbands had no ability to pay.|
|1892||Extended the grounds for divorce to include offences such as drunkenness and assault. Empowered the court to try cases on 'circuit'.|
|1923||Introduction of reciprocal arrangements for enforcing maintenance orders issued in other parts of the Commonwealth, including England.|
|1959||The Commonwealth Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 provided for the uniformity of divorce laws across Australia by conferring the Federal Jurisdiction in divorce on the states.|
|1976||The Family Law Act 1975 replaced the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959 and established the Family Law Court of Australia and the process of no-fault divorce.
Major sources for divorce records
Divorce case papers
The Divorce case papers is our key record series relating to divorce. The case papers contain evidence for each particular case including Judicial separations. The information in the divorce case papers varies considerably. Examples of documents in the case papers include:
1873-1967, 1969-1971 and 1976 (original case papers)
1972-1975 (copies on microfilm reel)
Decrees nisi [Supreme Court]
These are official copies of divorce decrees nisi.
The information in each document includes: names of parties, date of hearing, grounds for the dissolution of marriage, court orders, suit numbers and dates of decree nisi, order and decree absolute.
Only one document for 1972 is held in this series (Divorce No. 340/1972).
|1970-1971, 1972 (one document only), 1973-1976|
|NRS 21360, [8/3242-47]; Fiche 6130-6410||
Index to matrimonial causes files
Arranged chronologically and then by the first letter of the surname, the index provides the registered number for the divorce case papers. From 1873-1925 they also record year, petitioner, respondent and co-respondent(s) if named. Entries for names Kon-Z in the period 1970-74 appear to be missing.
Item details of divorce case papers held in our collection, 1976, 1970 and backwards from 1963 are being progressively listed in the catalogue.
Supreme Court: Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction
Below is a select list of records series from the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Jurisdiction. More series are listed in our catalogue under Agency No. 1059, Family Law Division of the Supreme Court of NSW.
Process books relating to Matrimonial causes files
Entries in the process books are arranged chronologically and give the; case file number; names of petitioner, respondent, co-respondent (if applicable) and petitioners and respondents solicitors; dates for the petition, appearance, answer, draft issues, trial, and decree. Some volumes also show the name of the judge and the grounds of the decree.
|9 Jul 1948-21 May 1973; 3 Oct 1973-23 Jun 1976|
Minutes of divorce and matrimonial causes
The volumes show dates of hearing, names of litigants, respective attorneys and co-respondents and in some cases names of witnesses. They contain basic details such as decisions of the court, judgments regarding costs, judgments concerning applications for custody of children and results of applications for decrees nisi to be made absolute.
Preliminary hearings for the determining the date of later hearings are included.
Copies of letters sent
These are letterpress copies of letters sent to solicitors and private individuals. Also includes some copies of decrees absolute.
|14 Jul 1873-21 May 1937|
Orders for the payment of alimony
These volumes contain orders (letters) authorizing the payment out of the Divorce Court Trust Fund of monies received for alimony, and specifying the persons to whom such monies should be paid.
|7 May 1908-Mar 1932|
Court Reporting Office: Transcripts
We hold transcripts of divorce cases dating from 1899. Not all divorce cases were transcribed. Transcripts may be arranged annually, or by judge.
Transcripts of evidence of the various Courts and Royal Commissions and Boards of Inquiry
Judges Notebooks contain notes made by the judge on cases, including divorce cases. The information can vary greatly: some judges write a summary of evidence while others note particular points of interest and some use their own shorthand. Consult our catalogue for information about judges notebooks.
NSW marriage certificates
Up until the end of 1983 the original marriage certificate was annotated when a marriage was dissolved. Marriage certificates are held by the Registry of Birth, Deaths and Marriages.
The State Library of NSW and some large university libraries hold newspapers, which may provide details concerning a particular divorce case.
The Sydney Morning Herald published a list of cases to be heard before the Supreme Court including divorce in its Law Notices. Some published indexes to The Sydney Morning Herald are available. Newspapers such as the Truth sometimes published salacious details from divorce cases. Digitised copies of newspapers are also available on the National Library of Australia's Trove website.
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This content first appeared in Archives in Brief 77 - Divorce Records
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