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The divorce case papers, also known as matrimonial causes files, are the main record series relating to divorce and contain evidence for each particular case including judicial separations. The series was created after the passing of the first divorce legislation in New South Wales, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1873 (36 Vic. No.9). (1)
The terminology for matrimonial and divorce matters varied over time as reflected in the title for the Division of the Supreme Court responsible for such matters. As a result, the series predominantly contains papers relating to divorce proceedings, however there are files for other matrimonial and family matters such as custody proceedings. These other family matters are particularly common after the proclamation in 1976 of the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975. Under this Act, responsibility for divorce matters was transferred to the Commonwealth but the New South Wales Supreme Court retained concurrent jurisdiction for custody, maintenance and property disputes until 1987.
The contents of the files in this series have changed markedly during the years since 1873, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s when less evidence was required to obtain a divorce decree. Files for the years 1873 to 1900, and to a lesser extent, those for 1901 to 1920, contain detailed petitions for the dissolution of marriage, statements of issues, affidavits of evidence and supporting documentation, as well as correspondence, applications for divorce, judicial separation or other matters matrimonial, copies of the decrees nisi (initial conditional grant of divorce), and copies of decrees absolute (final grant of divorce). In instances where property division and alimony were in question, financial documents relating to income and capital are included. Some files for 1976 contain pamphlets printed by the Federal Government outlining different aspects of Family Law including divorce, custody and maintenance of children, and the maintenance of spouses.
The series is arranged by an annual single numbering system. Files are numbered from No.1 of 1873 to 4882/1976. Some case papers include documents as late as 5 August 1987.
There are index books covering the periods 1873-1925 and 1950-54, and a card index covering the period circa 1920-76 (NRS 21360). The index books are arranged alphabetically by surname and give the registered matrimonial causes number, year, surname, given name(s), name of respondent and co-respondent. The index cards are arranged alphabetically by surname and give the registered matrimonial causes number, surname and given name(s). Some cards also give the name of the co-respondent and if applicable a guardian's name.
The registered matrimonial causes number can also be used in the series “Process books relating to matrimonial causes”. These Process books are arranged by the registered matrimonial causes number and include details such as the date the petition was filed, appearance date, date of answer, date of draft issues, date of trial, date of decree, and the name of the Petitioner's and Respondent's solicitor. Information relating to divorce and matrimonial causes can also be found in the Minutes of divorce and matrimonial causes series (NRS 13493) and the Rough minutes of divorce and matrimonial causes series (NRS 13494).
1. Major amendments were subsequently made to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1873 in 1881, 1884, 1892, 1899, 1923, and 1929. In 1959, uniformity in divorce laws throughout Australia was made possible with the Commonwealth Matrimonial Causes Act (No.104) and this was subsequently amended in 1965. In 1976, the Commonwealth Family Law Act 1975 established the Family Law Court of Australia.
Item list available electronically for divorces commenced in 1921 to July 1963 and 1970. Please contact reading room for assistance for other time periods.