Going to Nevada to obtain a divorce

I was watching a 1954 movie wherein Judy Holliday goes to Reno to get a divorce from Jack Lemmon. Back in the 50s and 60s, when I was growing up, Nevada, and mostly Reno, were fairly famous for obtaining a divorce in as little as six weeks. Why Reno over other cities? Is this still done? If not, when/why did it cease to be an advantage to go to Reno.

The short version is that most states used to have more restrictive divorce laws. Not that it was impossible, but standard “no-fault” divorce wasn’t common, etc. Not going into the details 'cuz I don’t claim to understand them.

Nevada, however, dealt in more kinds of sin than just gambling and prostitution. All you had to do was move in for six weeks to establish residency, get your divorce, and then move back out, more or less. The divorce laws were quick and pretty non-restrictive. Eventually other states began following the example under the general idea that people were going to do it anyway. Depending on one’s views, this is either a race to the bottom or an enlightened view.

Until the 1960s, most states had draconian divorce laws - there had to be proven, irreparable damage like adultery (which sometimes applied only to women), gross physical abuse, “mental cruelty,” abandonment etc. That’s why there’s the trope of hiring a private detective to get photos of the guilty couple in bed: it wasn’t just “proof” to the spouse, who likely already knew, it was proof to a court, and leverage for a favorable settlement out of court.

The option was to move to Nevada, which had very liberal divorce laws… but you had to be a resident, which took something like six weeks or three months or such. So there was an entire industry in “divorce resorts” where prospective divorce/es could live long enough to establish residency and then get a rubber-stamped divorce. There are many movies, novels, etc. about this racy form of life - kind of like going off to a Club Med now, to live and come back single.

Reno was simply the only city of any size in Nevada at the time. Most out of staters wanted to live in something like civilization, not a small western town or the burgeoning mob town of Las Vegas. So it was Reno or one of the classier dude(/dudette) ranches.

IIRC Reno was the largest city in Nevada then, and thus had the most amenities for divorce seeking women (& it was almost always the wife filing) to while away their six weeks. Usually with a cooperative husband footing the bill for the whole thing.

Famous fictional Reno divorces include Nora Shearer’s character in The Women; adultery was grounds for divorce in New York State but a scandalous trial would have been distasteful. So the lawyers hashed out the settlement & she went to a “ranch” outside Reno where well-off women established their 6 week residence. Divorce seekers had to state they intended to become permanent residents but that was generally ignored; the divorce biz was good for Nevada.

In Mad Men, Betty Draper faced the same New York laws. She knew Don was unfaithful but couldn’t prove it easily. When she finally convinced him she wanted out of the marriage he gave in–she went to Reno.

In real life, the rich & famous took advantage of the Nevada laws. Eddie Fisher & Arthur Miller were rare men with the leisure to get their divorces in Reno. There were also cheapo accommodations for the non-rich.

Eventually other states liberalized their divorce laws.

Impressively, as I recall from my bar-exam-cram, New York continued to have relatively restrictive divorce laws as late as 2009, when I took the bar there. (NY tests on domestic relations, otherwise I’d never have known; DR is high on my personal list of “you couldn’t pay me enough” practice areas.) They only adopted no-fault divorce in 2010.

Aside from that, everyone else has got it: Nevada combined liberal divorce laws with a short residency period. That’s all.

Err, I can only think of one place that describes, I think it’s a horse ranch by the name. It has lots of women staying there. And they get bedrooms!

But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

Let’s name the grounds for divorce (1955)

Adultery (always good for scandal)

Incompatibility - does anyone remember the test for that one, other than the old joke “Either he has lost his income, or she her pattability”?

Abandonment (how long?)

Mental Cruelty (WTF?)

I know I’m forgetting several

He probably needed killing, though.

As long as you’ve posted this little hijack, I could add this: I attended a Johnny Cash performance in Paso Robles, where he performed this song. He told the audience this little anecdote: A fan once approached him and asked: If you shot a man in Reno, whatcha doing in San Quentin?

Out of curiosity, were there other states that had equally liberal divorce laws but required longer residency periods to qualify?

In 1831 Nevada both legalized open gambling and passed the most liberal divorce laws in the country. It was a smart move. Previously Hot Springs, Arkansas, had been the place to go to for a quick divorce but with the even more liberal Nevada law Reno took its place and the state never looked back. There was an explosion of interest and publicity nationwide and Hollywood rushed out several movies based in Reno, one of the first (and funniest) being the Wheeler/Woolsey vehicle Peach-O-Reno (1931).

That should be 1931, right?

It should indeed. Completely missed that typo!

Nitpicking your hijack. The famous version of the song was the live performance at San Quentin but the song is Folsom Prison Blues. The subject of the song is in Folsom State Prison.

And further adjusting the nitpick, Johnny Cash never did prison time anywhere. He performed at Folsom Prison. (Which I used to live near. Near. Near. Not in.)

I never said he did prison time. He wrote the song Folsom Prison Blues which he performed at Folsom State Prison on the album At Folsom Prison and at San Quentin Prison on the album At San Quentin. He certainly wasn’t a prisoner at the time of those recordings, he was already famous. The original recording was on his first studio album but I have only ever heard the live version on the radio.

[hijack discussion] Folsom State Prison is in California. Reno is in Nevada. So it is a valid question, that if you killed someone in Nevada, why are you in prison in California. But…he may be in prison in Cali, for something completely different, and his singing confession of killing a man in Reno, may have never been prosecuted.

According to Lauren Bacall’s autobiography, Humphrey Bogart’s third wife, actress Mayo Methot, went to Reno at his insistence to establish residency for their divorce. Methot was an alcoholic and they had a hell of a time KEEPING her in Nevada long enough to establish her residency.