Lady Lucan and equality on divorce
Lady Lucan, the 80 year old widow of John Bingham, the seventh earl of Lucan, died in September 2017. The society couple hit the headlines during their acrimonious divorce in 1972. Amid claims of domestic abuse, cruelty and gambling losses Lady Lucan was awarded custody of her children. However the divorce was never finalised after Lord Lucan disappeared following the violent death of the parties’ nanny, Sandra Rivett. Lady Lucan subsequently lost custody of one child to another family member after allegations of mental instability. Lady Lucan did not attend the custody hearing and nor did she seek access. Lord Lucan was officially declared dead in 1999 and in 2016 a death certificate was finally issued enabling his son to take over his title.
Until 1957 couples wishing to divorce required a costly Act of Parliament. This discriminated against the poor. Between 1857 and 1925 the law discriminated between genders. Men could divorce women for adultery but women had to prove that and another ground. Until 1925 custody of children over the age of seven was always vested in the father. If he died he could will guardianship of the children to someone other than their mother. Between 1925 and 1973 pressure groups brought about some improvements for women, but rights were not equalised until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.
Nicola Furmston is a solicitor and head of the Family team at Barker Gotelee.