My Parents’ Divorce Decree

I remember going to the lawyer’s office with my mother. It must have been sometime in 1963. The lawyer offered me a purple lollipop. It tasted like soap! Put me off grape pops to this day! I’m not sure of the purpose of the visit but my guess is my mother was filing the papers necessary to divorce my father. I have NO idea why she brought me along!

I like to say we were the first family in the neighborhood to be divorced. It was the early 60s and although our neighborhood could have been taken for that of Beaver Cleaver’s, it was actually more like Peyton Place. I wasn’t ashamed that my father didn’t live with us. In fact, I felt it made us quite unique! 

Of course, as a 7-year-old I had no real understanding of the impact divorce has on a young mother who was valiantly trying to raise four daughters between the ages of 1 and 7. So, it was eye-opening to read the terms of the divorce settlement. I decided to locate the document once I saw the prompt for this week’s 52 Ancestors blog challenge. I figured it would be in Mom’s “strongbox” and I was right! 

Mom kept this box in her closet for years.
This mysterious box was always on a shelf at the bottom of her closet. I remember a day years ago when she shared the contents with me so I’d be ready when “her time came.” Mom passed away on Dec. 2, 2011, and ownership of the box and its contents reverted to me.  

The information in the court document revealed few surprises.   My mother was the plaintiff, my father the defendant. The cause of action was “intolerable cruelty to plaintiff.” My father failed to plead. He did appear at court but offered no evidence. Intolerable cruelty?? I figured maybe this was the “legalese” of the time for having extramarital affairs. That was no surprise. Knew that. 

The divorce was granted and Mom retained full custody of her four daughters. Dad was to pay $41 a week alimony and $15 a week for each child – for a grand total of $101 weekly – $404 a month. That is equal to $3280.38 in today’s dollars. Not an insignificant amount! But certainly not a great deal of money when one considers it had to cover the care and support of four children in addition to all the house expenses.

The settlement specified that my father would relinquish all rights and title to his car and the family home and its contents. Mom would be responsible for all the bills with the exception of health and life insurance. A very specific stipulation described concern for our education, “The defendant husband agrees with the plaintiff that the education of the minor children of the parties is of paramount importance and he agrees that he will do everything possible to facilitate and financially support the education of the children and make available to them any benefits accruing to him for the education of his minor children by virtue of the position which he may hold in his employment in the academic field at the time said minor children are ready to attend college.”

I’m sure he was quite sincere at the time and really intended to assist us with our future educational expenses. But, as it turned, the only one of the four us who received any “benefits accruing to him … by virtue of the position which he may hold in his employment in the academic field” was my sister, Jeanne. And that was only because she agreed to go to a Canadian university.

The divorce decree is only one of many items in the strongbox. I’ll be sharing more of the “goodies” in future posts. In the meantime, the box resides comfortably in MY closet. Writing this, I realize I placed it in approximately the same location as my mother – the bottom of the closet on the left-hand side! The subconscious is an interesting thing!


This is the 9th post for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge. This year, I am focusing on telling the story of “Our Stuff.”

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