Reno divorce history
by Amber Martin, Contributing writer
My wife and I don't get along,
We simply fight and fight.
I married her to win a bet,
it really serves me right.
The love she once declared was mine
has simply turned to hate.
So I've made up my mind
to visit old Nevada State
-- From Billy Murray's "I'm on my way to Reno"
Billy Murray's 1910 hit recording for RCA Victor may not have captured the essence of Reno, but it went a long way toward establishing how the rest of the world perceived the Biggest Little City.
"Reno by 1910 was known as the divorce capital," William D. Rowley, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said. "A divorce capital with a residency requirement willing to be shortened to beat out the competition and bring in the famous divorces Reno has become known for.
"From the civil war on, divorce law in the nation started to tighten up. I suppose in reaction to a greater demand to protect Victorian values," Rowley said.
However, the divorce law in Nevada did not change from the law in existence during territorial time until after New York lawyers discovered Nevada quickie divorce in 1898.
In 1913 the progressive movement and morality reform managed to persuade state representatives to change what had been a six-month residency requirement to a one-year requirement. This put Nevada's quickie divorce at the year-long process many other states were at.
The year requirement did not last long with lobbying from business owners and representatives pushing for the residency requirement to be back at six months. In 1915 Nevada's business owners got their wish. The income brought into Nevada through the divorce business caused a push in 1927 for the Nevada residency to be lowered to three months, and in 1931 the requirement went down to six weeks.
The results were amazing. According to the Reno Divorce Racket, a special focus magazine on the divorce trade, the first month after Nevada's six-week requirement passed 517 divorce suits were filed and 331 decrees handed down. In 1926 the Nevada courts granted 1,021 divorces. After the lower residency requirement in 1927 the figure almost doubled to 1,953. The 1930 divorces numbered 2,609 and in 1931 the number of divorces almost doubled at 5,260. By 1940 Nevada accounted for 49 out of 1000 divorces in the United States.
Attorney fees alone brought in $100,000 a month. That does not even consider the hotels, casinos, restaurants and merchants. An estimated $5 million annually was brought to Nevada by the divorce trade, according to Richard Lilliard in his book Desert Challenge: An Interpretation of Nevada.
Aside from the money brought to Nevada by the divorce racket, Nevada also gained a notoriety for the famous divorces in Reno. Mary Pickford, Corneluis Vanderbilt Jr., Jack Dempsey, Estelle Taylor, Earl Russel, and Laura B. Corey name just a few of the famous divorces. In Las Vegas, Eddie Fisher, a record star, divorced to marry Elizabeth Taylor, then a young actress noted as one of the most beautiful women in the world.
"Reno no longer plays a role as the divorce capital," Rowley said. However, the legend lives on.
copyright May 1998 Nevada Outpost