Aug 7, 2021 | Research

Was Divorce Possible in the 1920s?

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 Was divorce possible in the 1920s?

It is the question that one of our customers has recently asked. We’ll try to answer it by this post. It is based on the observations that our researchers had when working in the archives.

The short answer is – yes but it was not common. The society was very traditional (I’d say it still pretty much is but it’s a different topic to discuss). The divorce was not tolerated by the church but for very few exceptions. However, it happened and I would like to tell you a bit more about 2 of those rare cases, the procedure and show a few sample documents here.  

Divorce file title page

This is the title page of a divorce file that we worked on in Ternopil archives. The applicant resided in the village of Zalistsi and the link to see it on the map is here. Please, note that we are talking about the Orthodox church and the area that was part of the Russian Empire before WWI and Poland after WWI.
It is interesting to see that there was a special “Divorce Department of Volyn Ecclesiastical Consistory” that dealt with cases of this kind. 

This is the 1st page of the petition for divorce (in Russian) by Mrs. Anna Poruchnik, a peasant:

Divorce file petition 1


Anna says that she got married in 1911 but her husband has been absent for 7 years. She attached the evidence of 2 witnesses and asked to dissolve the marriage. According to her, the law let one do it if the spouse had been missing for 5 years. The red writing on this page says “paid”. That is probably why it is so big and red.

The petition was stamped and signed by the village headman and the local priest. Anna was illiterate and it was signed by another person on her behalf. Also, the handwriting of the petition tells us that Anna asked the priest to conduct it. But for the petition, the file includes the written evidence of the witnesses, extracts from the metrical records, and Anna’s oath. It took a few months for the consistory to review the case and Anna received the desired resolution of divorce:

Divorce file decision


The resolution says that the absence of the spouse for at least three years is the legitimate reason for the marriage to be dissolved. It’s surprising to see that the document is in Ukrainian. Anna has also received a certificate of divorce that was conducted in two languages, Polish and Ukrainian:

Divorce certificate

Let’s have a look at another case that dates to the same time. The applicant, Mr. Levenets lived in Kremenets in present-day Ternopil province, and his marriage took place in Velyka Borshshivka village.

Vasyl Levenets was 28 when he married 16 years old Daria Shandruk. Here’s the translation of some parts of his petition for divorce that you can see below:



“…having spent 2 years together, I noticed her marital unfaithfulness. I left this fact unattended hoping that she will mend her ways. I was horribly out in my calculations. She has come together with other individuals and she has left me since then, leading a dissolute life and copulating, which has been certified by Ivan Senkevych and Petro Prus, the citizens of Borshchivka village (…) I ask for the Prelate’s blessing of Your Eminence to find my marriage dissolved and permit me to remarry… ”

Divorce file petition 2

The protocol of the investigation conducted by the Divorce Department of the Department of Volyn Ecclesiastical Consistory is quite extensive. It contains the evidence of the above-mentioned witnesses but neither of them talked about the “dissolute life”. The decision was made just a month later.
The marriage was dissolved due to the marital infidelity of the wife. A record of divorce was made in the metrical book. Mr. Levenets was allowed to remarry. Mrs. Shandruk was entrusted with a 7-year penance under the supervision of a local priest. We do not know what exactly the penance was like though. The case cost 300 rubles to the applicant.

Three years later, Daria Shandruk appealed to the archbishop with a written request to reduce the term of penance and allow marriage, but her request was not granted.

Source: The State Archives of Ternopil Province. Records Group of Volyn Ecclesiastical Consistory 


Dear friends, may you have any questions regarding your research or need help, feel free to contact me. You can also check our genealogy research page for details. We do not charge for the preliminary research step that will let us explain what should be done to succeed, estimate our chances and suggest the research roadmap.


Andriy Dorosh