Divorce in Roman times has evolved over the course of history. With the development of the Roman state, the legal norms that regulated marriage issues were transformed.
From the very beginning, men had the right to divorce. Although divorce was officially reserved for husbands only in cases of serious marital faults on the part of their partners, men often decided to divorce their partners in cases of adultery, infertility or even wine consumption. The decision to divorce could be made at any time.
With the end of the republic, Roman customs changed and the right to divorce was also granted to women (2nd century BCE). This was largely due to the intensification of Rome’s political scene and the struggle for positions among the upper social strata. It has become popular to form political alliances through marriage. Divorces, in turn, were taken when a “favourable” new partner appeared on the political scene or marriage was to guarantee privileges in the Roman world and connect two families.
One of the main reasons for many divorces was simply the fact that the partner no longer wanted to stay married. When a man or wife did not see their partner as a wife or husband and did not express a desire to stay married, the relationship was automatically terminated. It is important to note that one of the parties could decide on a divorce, even if the partner did not receive a “divorce petition”. The only thing that mattered was the fact that the spouse wanted a divorce and thus the legally (socially) established relationship was ending.
In Roman times, divorce was a private matter, and information about it remained only among the closest people. The divorce did not have to be recorded in any way either by the state or later by the church. This often caused turmoil and confusion due to the multitude of marriages and divorces.
An application for divorce could also be filed from the wife’s father if he retained legal custody of her and not the husband. In this way, the woman’s family could control the dowry brought into the man’s house and recover any assets. Often, however, the ex-husband claimed rights to the dowry, arguing that the wife had been unfaithful to him.
In the case of divorce, the children of the relationship mostly stayed with their father – Roman law (not like today’s) favoured the male side. It happened, however, that children with the consent of their parents lived with their mothers. A great example of such a situation is August’s daughter – Julia and her mother Skrybonia. The emperor Octavian Augustus, after becoming involved with Livia, took his daughter under his care and took Scribonia’s child. After Julia was banished by her father to the island of Pandateria for her corrupt behaviour, Scribonia accompanied her. This proves that despite the legal separation, maternal love and the relationship between daughter and mother were still present.