Custody of Infants Act 1839

The Custody of Infants Act 1839 was a movement started by a woman named Caroline Norton. Norton had a terrible marriage with her husband and created this movement arguing for the right of mothers to have custody of their children if they were to get divorced. Until this point, women were not allowed to have custody of their children if they were to get a divorce from their husbands. Not only did the husbands control all of the money within the marriage, but they were the only ones who had the right to file for a divorce. It was quite literally against the law for women to take their children if their husbands divorced them. This Act allowed women who were considered to be non-adulterous mothers to petition the court to gain custody of their children up until the age of seven if they were no longer married to their husbands. Although the Act did not guarantee custody to the mothers of these children, this changed a lot about the power dynamics in these marriages because women were finally gaining the right to have their own legal identity outside of their husband. This started an entire movement based around child custody laws. It was called the Tender years doctrine. The 1839 Act was repealed by Parliament and replaced with the Custody of Infants Act 1873.

Works Cited:

“The Custody of Infants Act 1839.” British Women's Emancipation since the Renaissance,

“Custody of Infants Act 1839.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Sept. 2020,

Associated Place(s)

Event date:


Parent Chronology: