For many decades, the only way a couple could get divorced was for one partner to establish that the other had done something irreconcilable, which is known as "fault divorce" today. This contrasts with "no-fault" divorce, in which a couple needs only to establish their partnership has broken down.
But while MassLegalHelp outlined that early reasons for divorce were more serious matters, some couples used to really stretch the definitions of those concepts. That led to these bizarre and often hilarious legal arguments that sound made-up but really happened.
According to a 1938 article in the Australian newspaper The Perth Daily News, a woman in Vienna, Austria, sued her husband because he would not stop tickling her. As she put it, "I am naturally ticklish, and my nerves cannot stand it."
Fortunately for her, the judge happened to know of a tailor in Salzburg during the Middle Ages who fatally tickled seven wives and adjourned the case in her favor.
Failure to bring her ice cream
As SFGATE reported, a 1909 article from The Oakland Tribune attracted online attention a century later after it seemed to suggest that a California woman sued her husband for divorce after he refused to give her ice cream.
However, the rest of the article revealed that this refusal came right after the woman had undergone surgery and was just one example that established how severely the husband had neglected their marriage. Sadly, it's not as funny as it sounds.
Opening the marriage to ghosts
According to a 1909 article in The St. Louis Post Dispatch, Jacob and Bessie Mendelsohn became interested in seances and talking to spirits, which apparently led Jacob to find younger, ghostly lovers for both himself and his wife.
But while one might expect jealousy to be the downfall of the Mendelsohns' marriage, it turned out Jacob was more offended that Bessie didn't take the existence of either of these ghosts seriously.
Talking too much
Although the context for this story proves elusive, the May 19 edition of The Daily Press from Muncie, Indiana, featured a headline revealing that a woman sought to divorce her husband because he couldn't bring himself to stop talking.
And judging by the fact that the judge granted her the requested divorce, it's hard not to imagine that he got firsthand evidence of her accusations as the case went on.
Keeping too many cats and birds
According to a 1907 report from The San Francisco Call, Jacob Balmes of Oakland sued for divorce because he did not feel he should be required to live with a woman who shared their home with 14 cats and four canary birds.
Although the headline characterized Balmes as despising animals, his issue with the pets seemed to be their ravenous hunger, which could cost him up to $5 in meat in a single day. For reference, the inflation calculator website In2013dollars.com estimated this at the equivalent of about $163 today.
Literally stealing his youth
While it's not unusual for people stuck in unhappy marriages to accuse each other of stealing their youth, a Denver man named O.C. Rogers accused his wife of conspiring with a doctor to do so. According to a 1909 article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this was his response to her lawsuit accusing him of non-support in their marriage.
Rogers specifically said she arranged for the doctor to inject the blood of an older patient into him, thereby prematurely aging him. It's unknown whether the court bought what the newspaper described as a "novel plea."
Kicking his wife out of bed for reading poetry
According to a 1910 report from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hilda Young of Los Angeles sued her husband for divorce after he kicked her out of bed for reading her poetry to him while he was trying to sleep. She said this happened before she even reached the second verse, and since that wasn't the extent of his cruelty, the judge granted her divorce.
In Young's words, "My husband never could appreciate true talent."
Wearing overalls and "hoboing"
According to an article in the January 23, 1921 edition of The Oregon Daily Journal, A man named W. K. Rayl alleged that his wife dressed in men's overalls and went on a "hobo trip" to Salt Lake City that saw her stow away on freight trains and spend the occasional night in jail.
Rayl said this and similar actions were deliberate attempts to embarrass him, adding that she caused enough scenes at his business that he was forced to close it. She also had sued him for non-support, but Rayl was acquitted.
Not believing his wife slept soundly while falling
According to a 1908 article in The St.Louis Post-Dispatch, Anna Price of Centralia, Missouri, sued her minister husband for divorce after they were traveling together in a covered wagon and she fell out while sleeping. When her husband doubled back and found her, she told him she remained asleep after the fall.
He apparently refused to believe this, and Price was so astonished at his disbelief that she filed for divorce. If there was more to the divorce case than this seemingly minor incident, reporters didn't know it either.
Kissing cats and chewing
According to a 1909 report in the Indiana newspaper The Evansville Press, a New York couple was able to secure a legal separation after both of them showed they could no longer tolerate each other's habits.
The woman apparently couldn't get her husband to stop using chewing tobacco, while he couldn't convince her to stop kissing her cat's head every night before bed. Since he found that as repulsive as she found his chewing habit, they were done with each other.
Reading Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn
In a 1908 article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Edward J. Richards of Kansas City countersued his wife for $100,000 after she sued to divorce him. But while part of their marital strife concerned their shared habit of kissing other people's spouses, Richards claimed that his wife's possession of the racy romance novel Three Weeks damaged their relationship more than any flirtations.
As he told the court, "I tore the book up, threw it in the fire and told my wife it had to end."
Pushing her husband off her trunk
In a 1908 report from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Edward Huber recounted the incident that led him to sue his wife for divorce. After she brought a trunk full of her items into the dining room, one of her sons sat on it. But while he stopped after she yelled at him to get off, his older brother decided to sit on it immediately after before being similarly rebuffed.
As Huber claimed, he apparently wanted to assert a husband's right to sit on his wife's trunk and did so himself. She didn't agree that he had that right and told him to get off. When he didn't, she pushed him off. Why any of that happened in the first place will likely remain a mystery.
Letting a cat eat butter at the table
According to a 1097 article in The St.Louis Post-Dispatch, Minerva McCamley described her husband Joseph as frequently complaining about the privileges she allowed her tabby cat to have in their home. But things seemed to come to a head when Joseph found the cat eating butter on the dinner table upon arriving home.
He told Minerva that either the cat had to leave their home for good or he would. She chose to separate from Joseph, and due to unrelated long-term cruelty he showed her, Judge Foster of St. Louis granted her a divorce.
Taking up too much space in bed
The January 6, 1909 edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured an article chronicling a legal dispute between Ella and Philip Roemmich that started with Phillip complaining that Ella was taking up more than her share of the bed. In response, she said she was taking up as much space as the law allows.
The argument that followed led to an intense enough dispute that Philip would be arrested and fined $25. Although that's the equivalent of about $840 today, the judge considered Philip's actions so abhorrent that he wished he could impose a larger fine.
Pretending her husband was dead
According to a 1906 article from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a local man named Thomas Purcell said his wife's absence left him to cook his own meals. But while that mattered more at the time, his bigger issue would likely be the end of a relationship in any time period.
Purcell claimed that his wife would introduce herself to other people under a different name and represent herself as a widow. Although the case hasn't been resolved yet in this report, there are a few clearer signs that a relationship should end.
Trying to force his wife to eat mangoes instead of pickles
By the time a 1906 article chronicling the divorce case of Flora Dulaney appeared in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she had spent two days providing evidence that her husband, William, was exerting control over every aspect of her life.
And as she recounted, the problems started shortly after they married a year prior. They went to a restaurant, and she wanted to eat sweet pickles, but William insisted they weren't good for her and to get mangoes instead. She stuck to her original order, but William got the waiter to bring her mangoes anyway, which she refused to eat.
Accusing his wife of putting soap in his coffee
According to an article in the May 21, 1910 edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, there were two reasons why Henriette Guese wanted a divorce and the restoration of her maiden name, Fechtig.
Both of them are unusual enough to belong here, but the fact that her husband accused her — presumably without truth — of putting soap in his coffee was significant enough to warrant inclusion on the divorce petition.
Refusing to talk to his wife
As the 1910 item in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch relayed, Henriette Guese had a fundamental reason for wanting to divorce her husband. And that was that he refused to speak to her for at least four months.
As she explained, he told her that he didn't love her and didn't want her to bother him, so he wanted to keep a household where neither partner spoke to the other. Unsurprisingly, this was not acceptable to Guese.
Embarrassing her husband at a society meeting
According to an article in the February 27, 1909 edition of The Oakland Tribune, George T. Gilette of Spokane, Washington, sued his wife for divorce after she crashed a meeting of the chapter of the Order Of The Foresters that he presided over. She apparently forced him to go home, calling him some names in the process.
Gilette said she kept up her cruelty after this incident, and the ridicule he received from neighbors after this incident compelled him to leave home and resign his position in the fraternal order. Judge William A. Huneke granted him the divorce.
Slurping soup too loud
The February 27, 1909 edition of The Oakland Tribune reported that Mina Lelder of St. Louis filed for divorce against her husband Ach because of his poor table manners. The worst of them was apparently his penchant for hanging his face over his bowls of soup and slurping the bowl's entire contents loudly enough to sound like a sawmill.
In response, Ach claimed that this behavior was intended to prevent wrinkles, but it's unclear whether that explanation was enough to satisfy the judge.
A filthy habit
A 1907 article from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a local woman named Jennie Kimsey was being sued by her husband for divorce because of her smoking habit. In an oddly prescient move for the time, he also apparently expressed concern that her habit was hazardous to her health, which she balked at.
Although it's unclear how the case was resolved, Kimsey responded that her husband knew of her habit from the beginning and had deserted their marriage for other reasons. In her words, "Those charges are simply an excuse for leaving me."
Eating too many onions
Although the full story is no longer easily accessible to the public, a report from The Evening News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on September 4, 1920, discussed a divorce case prompted by a husband who kept eating onions.
Presumably, this habit made his breath offensive enough to prompt a lawsuit from his wife. And since her divorce was reportedly granted, it seems the husband was unyielding enough in this habit to be considered malicious.
Being haunted by an ex
In 1912, the Australian newspaper The Northern Star reported that Helen Phelps Dodge filed for divorce from her millionaire husband Walter due to the way he would use the supposed ghost of his ex-wife Ethel to frighten her.
Apparently, this behavior came out in its most extreme form whenever Helen wore something that belonged to Ethel. In response, Walter would tremble and say, "Ethel is angry. You must not wear that. Give it to me." After enough of these episodes, Helen became frightened enough to flee back to the United States.
Reading all night and sleeping all day
As The Evening Statesman reported in 1910, a Chicago woman named Elinor Field sued to divorce her husband and made a case that he had largely deserted their marriage.
And Eugene Field, the son of a poet, reportedly had a passive yet unhelpful way of doing that. He would stay up all night reading romantic novels and sleep all day. Since that's not exactly a recipe for a prosperous household, Elinor wanted him gone.
Oddly enough, witchcraft was cited as part of the reason one couple had to stay married in one case described by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1907. Because when a woman identified as Mrs. Maier sued for divorce, her father-in-law testified against her.
He recounted a story of a mysterious veiled woman approaching him and telling him that Mrs. Maier had been married six times and was the mother of 17 children. If that wasn't enough, she apparently told him that Mrs. Maier made his son love her through witchcraft. Whether the judge bought this tale or not, he denied the divorce petition.
Throwing lobsters, eggs, and milk at her husband
According to a 1909 article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Lottie Cawain became enraged when she saw her husband weighing a blonde woman on the scales at the grocery store he owned. Her fury led her to throw a can of lobster at him, as well as some eggs and buttermilk, which drenched him in the messy mixture.
Although it was the husband who sued Lottie for divorce after this incident, the judge ended up ordering him to pay her alimony of $25 a month. His reasoning was not reported.
Letting her cats and dogs in bed, but not her husband
The February 27, 1909 edition of The Oakland Tribune featured an article discussing the breakdown of a marriage that William Wiedemann claimed left him treated cruelly, deserted, and financially jeopardized.
However, it seems that the last straw was the fact that his wife let so many cats and dogs sleep with her that there was no room for him. Thus, he was instead left to sleep in an uncomfortable chair, which he said had a harmful effect on his health.
According to a 1911 article in The Oakland Tribune, Robert Cherry filed for divorce from his wife Rosa purely because he felt persistently nagged by her for ten years.
As the newspaper stated at the time, "He states that he fears if he is forced to remain longer with her, he will become insane."
Fighting over breakfast
According to an item in the September 15, 12935 edition of The San Bernardino Sun, Romeo Gulmette of Worchester, Massachusetts, was making French toast. Apparently, his cooking method led his wife to tell him that he wasn't browning it properly.
And while the case wasn't resolved at the time of publication, his response was cruel enough to compel his wife to sue him for divorce.
Refusing to wash his face
According to a 1911 article in The Cincinnati Enquirer, a woman identified as Mrs. Spradling sued for divorce because her husband was not hygienic enough for her tastes.
Specifically, he had a habit of refusing to wash his face before going to bed, which apparently made sleeping next to him intolerably unpleasant.