Volume 3 Issue 1 CONTENTS

Sándor Nagy

One Empire, Two States, Many Laws Matrimonial Law and Divorce in the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy


Following the Compromise of 1867 between the Habsburg House and the parties pressing for Hungarian independence, the territory of Austria and the territory of Hungary constituted separate jurisdictions, thus it is not surprising that matrimonial law developed differently in the newly sovereign Kingdom of Hungary. In Austria the 1811 civil code specifically circumscribed the right of Catholics, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the population and were only able to “separate from bed and board,” and non-Catholics to dissolve the bonds of marriage. In contrast, in Hungary as of the middle of the nineteenth century Catholics were also able to dissolve the bonds of marriage. In this article I examine the evolution of matrimonial law as well as the influence of the economic and social transformations of the nineteenth century on divorce rates and the spread of divorce. The introduction of the matrimonial law of 1895 and the easing of divorce proceedings in 1907 were direct causes of the steep rise in the already higher rates of divorce in Hungary around the turn of the century. While the higher divorce rates in the larger cities were influenced by industrialization and urbanization, in rural areas, where the rise in divorce rates was not negligible, other factors must be sought. After the adoption of the Hungarian matrimonial law, the number of divorces among Catholics grew and the number of divorce proceedings initiated by members of the lower classes, in particular peasants and agricultural workers, also rose. In general, the data indicate cultural divergences in the practice of divorce and reveal the significance of the differences between the lifestyle customs and legal traditions of different denominations on the one hand and on the other the importance of efforts on the part of the state to reconcile these differences and foster social integration.