Historic Oklahoma Divorce Laws

Divorces were recognized and granted by the principal Indian Nations who occupied territory now a part of the State of Oklahoma. In the Cherokee Nation divorces were granted by the circuit court for stated causes on “application by petition or complaint of aggrieved party.” The circuit courts of the county in the Choctaw Nation likewise had original jurisdiction of divorce proceedings; in the Chickasaw and Muskogee Nation the district courts had such jurisdiction. The divorce proceedings in each of the nations were recorded by the clerks of the respective courts in the same manner as all cases and proceedings of the court. The Choctaw Nation was the only one to make specific provisions for such recording. The laws of this Nation provided that each district clerk should be furnished with a “large blank book” in which to record the proceedings of the several courts of the district. The judges of such courts were to furnish the clerk with a “full copy of all trials under his jurisdiction,” signed by him, which was to be filed by the clerk.

Under the laws of Nebraska, effective in Oklahoma Territory from May 1890 to December 1890 under the Organic Act; divorces were granted by the district court. The Laws of Arkansas, which were applied in the Indian Territory by the Organic Act, vested the jurisdiction of divorce proceedings in the circuit court, held in each county. The records of such proceedings were kept by the clerk of the circuit court.

On December 25, 1890 the laws of Nebraska were superseded in Oklahoma Territory by the acts of the first territorial assembly. This assembly vested the jurisdiction of divorces in the district and probate (county) courts of the territory. The only record of a divorce action was that entered in the docket of the court, kept by the court clerk, which contained in alphabetical order a statement of each judgment which consisted of the names of the parties, the amount of the judgment and costs, and the date of its rendition. In 1893 the territorial assembly divested the probate (county) court of jurisdiction in divorce cases, leaving the district court as the sole court of such jurisdiction. The assembly legalized in 1895 all divorces which had been granted by the probate court prior to that time.

When creating the state board of health in 1908, the legislature made it the duty of the clerk of the district court to report to the state commissioner of health, at the close of each term of court, all divorces granted during the term just closed. In addition, the commissioner of health was authorized to make rules and regulations concerning the keeping and reporting of divorce records. Acting under this rule-making power, the commissioner required the clerk of the district court of each county to report on the first day of March, June, September, and December of each year all divorces granted in his court during the preceding three months. Data to be included in the record of each divorce consisted of the date of the divorce, for what cause it was granted, the residence of each party to the divorce when married, where and by whom the divorce was granted, whether it was first, second, or other divorce of each party, if possible, and the time the divorce was granted. These requirements of the statute and the rule of the estate commissioner of health with respect to reporting of divorces were never complied with, and there are no records of divorces in the offices of the state department of health.


Oklahoma Historical Records Survey, Guide to Public Vital Statistics Records in Oklahoma, Oklahoma Historical Records Survey, 1941.

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