Divorce files contain all the legal documentation required for the granting of a divorce. Note that not everyone who filed a petition for divorce always completed the divorce proceedings. If the parties reconciled after the petition was filed, then the divorce proceedings stopped. If later they wished to terminate the marriage then a new file was started under a new number. Some parties commenced divorce proceedings more than once over a number of years. In some of these cases the husband may have been the petitioner in the first proceedings, and in the second file the wife is the petitioner and the husband the respondent. Petitioning for divorce does not always end in the termination of a marriage.

Also, parties may start proceedings in one court (e.g. Auckland), not finalise them, then start proceedings again in another court (e.g. Gisborne) if one party has moved to another area. Researchers should not assume that because the family lived in one area that a divorce could not therefore be filed in a different district.

The origins of divorce laws in New Zealand

From 1867 until 1980, the Supreme / High Court had exclusive jurisdiction in the matters of divorce proceedings. In 1980 the Family Proceedings Act and Family Court Act meant that divorce proceedings became the jurisdiction of the District/Family Court, becoming family proceedings. All divorce proceedings commenced in the Supreme Court prior to the establishment of the Family Court in 1980 continued to be handled by the Supreme Court.

The 1867 Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act permitted husbands to divorce their wives for provable adultery on the part of the wife. Wives however had to prove both adultery and some other legally defined type of cruelty or desertion.

In 1889 the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act was amended so that a husband or a wife could petition for divorce simply on the grounds of adultery. The grounds for divorce were also extended to include other causes such as wilfully deserting the petitioner without cause for 5 years; being a habitual drunkard for 4 years or more (with a failure to provide support or neglect of domestic duties); cruelty, attempted murder of the petitioning spouse or any of their children; the respondent was a lunatic or of unsound mind and had been confined in an institution for at least 10 years or the husband was guilty of incestuous adultery, rape, sodomy, or bestiality. Also where one party had married twice or when there were reasonable grounds for supposing the other party to the marriage was dead.

Over the years the grounds for divorce have been further extended and waiting times reduced.

The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act has had various name changes over the years such as Matrimonial proceedings in the 1960s, Domestic proceedings in the 1970s and Family proceedings in the 1980s.

Some explanations of terminology used in divorce proceedings

What kind of information can be found in a divorce file?

Divorce files are particularly valuable for genealogical and social research - they give detailed information about the persons involved.

A divorce file generally contains most of the following information:

  • Full name of husband

  • Occupation

  • Full name of wife

  • Wife's maiden name

  • Where both husband and wife currently reside

  • Date of marriage

  • Place of marriage eg: church, chapel, registry office, house etc

  • Area/location where marriage took place

  • Name of minister/registrar/celebrant

  • Copy of marriage certificate

  • Cause of application and dates of events/incidents/behaviour

  • Name of co-respondent

  • Co-respondent's occupation

  • Co-respondent's current address

  • Place of birth of husband and wife

  • Name of petitioner/respondent/co-respondent's solicitors

  • Full names of the children of the marriage

  • Ages of the children at the time of the petition

  • Occassionally personal letters, postcards, or photographs submitted in evidence

  • From about 1889 onwards occasionally photographys (usually of the respondent)

Documents on the files may include:

  • The petition for divorce

  • Affidavits in support of the divorce

  • Answer of the respondent

  • Marriage certificate

  • Decree nisi, and

  • Decree absolute dissolving the marriage.

It is possible to verify if a couple were divorced by obtaining a copy of the marriage certificate. When a divorce is granted a stamp is usually placed on the original certificate recording the date and court location of the decree absolute.

Divorce records held by us

Divorce records held at our Auckland archive

Access:

  • No restriction on divorce registers.

  • 100 year restriction for all divorce files and minute books from date of closure of the record. Written permission to access records should be sought from the Court Manager where the divorce was processed.

Note: Divorce files held at our Auckland archive have been listed individually by name on Archway.

Family proceedings records

From c.1981-1982 divorce proceedings were heard in the District / Family Court and divorce files became domestic proceedings files. Domestic proceedings were renamed family proceedings after the Family Proceedings Act 1980 and the Family Court came into force.

Domestic/family proceedings registers

These registers list family / domestic proceedings heard before the court on matters including separation, maintenance, paternity, custody and guardianship, matrimonial property, non-molestation and occupation orders etc. From 1981 these registers also include dissolution of marriages. The registers generally include the names of parties, type of proceedings, dates of stages in proceedings and dates of orders.

Domestic/family proceedings files

The files contain the legal documentation from family / domestic proceedings cases relating to maintenance, custody, matrimonial property, conciliation and separation. The files contain copies of papers relating to the hearings, including copies of maintenance agreements, custody applications and agreements, paternity orders, separation agreements, statements of evidence, correspondence with legal representatives, and in the front of each file an action sheet showing the dates of steps in each case. Names and addresses of the parties are usually given. From 1981 these files include marriage dissolutions.

Family proceedings records held at our Auckland archive

Access:

All records restricted for 100 years from date of file closure. Written permission to access records should be sought from the Court Manager where the proceedings took place.