Abraham Lincoln, our 16th President, is the in-thing as far as historical celebrities go. But, what many people don’t realize is that Mr. Lincoln was a divorce lawyer before he became President. Joe Palazzolo reviewed Mr. Lincoln’s work as a divorce lawyer in his blog post Abraham Lincoln: Divorce Lawyer for the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Illinois was apparently a progressive state for its time, providing greater access to divorce for women than most southern and eastern states, according to Stacy Pratt McDermott in her report on Lincoln Legal Briefs.

One report shows that between 1837 and 1861, Lincoln’s law practice handled 131 divorce cases across 17 Illinois state courts. Women brought 82 of those cases and divorces were granted to those women in 79% of the cases, while only 69% of men were successful in obtaining divorces. The most common grounds for divorce included desertion, adultery, cruelty, and drunkenness. Other asserted but less common grounds included impotence, fraud, and bigamy. Statistics showed that when desertion was asserted by a woman, it was the most successful grounds, resulting in divorce being granted 82% of the time. When women cited desertion as grounds for divorce, the courts granted the divorce 72% of the time. Men were also most successful in obtaining divorce based on the grounds of desertion and adultery.

Additionally, women in Lincoln’s law practice often obtained custody of their children, especially when they cited cruelty, drunkenness and desertion in combination as grounds. The Illinois courts also provided financial support in the manner of child support and alimony for these women.

During this time, Illinois was granting more divorces per capita than Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri or Ohio. In fact, by 1857, Illinois was leading the nation in granting divorces. Possible reasons for the high rate of divorce in Illinois during this time could be that the population was extremely mobile as an early frontier state with industrialization and railroad development. Also, Illinois had a more liberal viewpoint toward women’s right to divorce than most other states. The Lincoln Legal Briefs website lists some of the cases that Lincoln handled.

It is clear that even though Lincoln was successful in obtaining divorces for women in his day, divorce in generally was not as easy to come by. Fault grounds had to be proven to obtain a divorce. In today’s world, most states, including Texas divorce laws, allow for divorce on no-fault grounds called insupportability. Most women can get divorced if they want to without having to prove who-did-what-to-whom. Can you imagine having a judge tell a women in today’s society that she had to stay married to a man just because she couldn’t prove that he was a drunk or cheater?

In Texas, divorce can be granted based on no-fault grounds of insupportability. Or, if a spouse chooses to plead fault grounds, a divorce can be granted based on adultery, cruelty, abandonment for 1 year or living apart for 3 years (aka desertion), felony conviction, or mental hospitalization for 3 years. Fault grounds for divorce can be used to support a request for a larger division of property, or in some cases where the children may be effected by the behavior, it can be used in a custody case.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neil Michelle O'Neil

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes…

Michelle May O’Neil has 27 years’ experience representing small business owners, professionals, and individuals in litigation related to family law matters such as divorce, child custody, and complex property division. Described by one lawyer as “a lethal combination of sweet-and-salty”, Ms. O’Neil exudes genuine compassion for her client’s difficulties, yet she can be relentless when in pursuit of a client’s goals. One judge said of Ms. O’Neil, “She cannot be out-gunned, out-briefed, or out-lawyered!”

Family Law Specialist

Ms. O’Neil became a board-certified family law specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1997 and has maintained her certification since that time. While representing clients in litigation before the trial court is an important part of her practice, Ms. O’Neil also handles appellate matters in the trial court, courts of appeals and Texas Supreme Court. Lawyers frequently consult with Ms. O’Neil on their litigation cases about specialized legal issues requiring particularized attention both at the trial court and appellate levels. This gives her a unique perspective and depth of perception that benefits both her litigation and appellate clients.

Top Lawyers in Texas and America

Ms. O’Neil has been named to the list of Texas SuperLawyers for many years, 2011-2018, a peer-voted honor given to only about 5% of the lawyers in the state of Texas. In 2014-2018, Ms. O’Neil received the special honor of being named by Texas SuperLawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Texas, Top 100 Lawyers in Texas, and Top 100 Lawyers in DFW. She was named one of the Best Lawyers in America for 2016 and received an “A-V” peer review rating by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directories for the highest quality legal ability and ethical standards.

Author and Speaker

A noted author, Ms. O’Neil released her second book Basics of Texas Divorce Law in November 2010, with a second edition released in 2013, and a third edition expected in 2015.  Her first book, All About Texas Law and Kids, was published in September 2009 by Texas Lawyer Press. In 2012, Ms. O’Neil co-authored the booklets What You Need To Know About Common Law Marriage In Texas and Social Study Evaluations.  The State Bar of Texas and other providers of continuing education for attorneys frequently enlist Ms. O’Neil to provide instruction to attorneys on topics of her expertise in the family law arena.