The Reno Divorce Era

2-59b renoarch p219

On March 20, 1931, the Nevada State Journal headlines shouted out the big news in boldface type on page one:

“GAMING, DIVORCE BILLS SIGNED!” 

Governor Fred B. Balzar had signed two highly-controversial bills: the six-week divorce bill and the “wide-open” legalized gambling bill.

Before March 20, 1931, in most other states, divorce required a waiting period of one year or more, and the only ground allowed was proof of adultery.

But Nevada made it simple: reside anywhere in Nevada for six weeks; pick your reason for wanting a divorce from a list of nine legal grounds that required little proof; and spend an average of six minutes in court before a judge to get your divorce decree.

The floodgates opened in the small town of Reno in northern Nevada (Las Vegas was not yet in the picture) and divorce seekers (as the media called them) came running by the thousands to get a “quickie” divorce. They came from all walks of life – the rich, the poor, the famous, the working class. They were mostly women, but men came, too.

From March 20, 1931 to the 1960s, if you wanted a quick, simple exit from marriage, Reno was the place to go. The small town “out West” became known as the “Divorce Capital of the World”.

Today few people know about this period of Nevada history and the profound social impact the era had on American society. Nevada, as it would turn out, would lead the way for other states to liberalize their divorce laws, thus making it easier for a woman or man to get out of an unhappy marriage.

Through this website, I hope to help preserve this fascinating slice of history in the contemporary American West.

If you have a Nevada divorce story you’d like to share, please contact me at mcgeebmc@aol.com.

– Sandra V. McGee

(Photo courtesy Neal Cobb Collection, Nevada Historical Society, Reno)

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