In the movie Cat People, from 1942, a psychiatrist talks to the protagonist about what to do with his wife. The options were to nullify their marriage and be free to pursue his new love, or put his wife "away on observation and restraint" making him unable to divorce her:

The law is quite explicit, one cannot divorce an insane person.

I've always thought that insanity was grounds for divorce, or maybe back then it was the other way around. But later in the movie the psychiatrist tries to seduce his patient, so it might be that he wanted to push the husband into a divorce and clear his way.

So, was there really a law that prevented the divorce if the wife was put under restraint or it was just the psychiatrist ill-advising just to get the girl?

  • Can you make the question title more specific? Dec 11 '16 at 16:25

Without doing in depth historical law research for every state, it's simple enough to refer to current laws. Most if not all states that allow at fault divorce, consider severe mental illness a valid reason to grant the divorce. Otherwise a simple no-fault irreconcilable differences divorce can be granted.

For example, NJ, mental illness to a point of being institutionalized for a year is grounds for an at fault divorce.

When one spouse has been institutionalized for mental illness for a period of twelve or more consecutive months subsequent to the marriage and preceding the filing of the complaint, institutionalization is a ground for divorce under N.J.S.A. 2A:34-2(f). The primary issue in this ground for divorce is whether or not the spouse is able to function as a working partner in the marriage.

That said, why would the villain tell the husband he can't get divorced if he wants the husband out of the way? That doesn't make sense.

  • It makes sense because the other alternative was to nullify the marriage but leave his wife "free" and unattended. The husband was already in love (how easy!) with another girl, and could have taken the easy path Dec 12 '16 at 15:41
  • So, if this or a similar law was current at the time of the movie, the answer would be "the protagonist could have his wife institutionalized and divorce her, but after waiting a year". I think this makes it clear that the psychiatrist was trying to push him on the "divorce but let you wife free" by not giving the full picture. Dec 16 '16 at 19:07

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