No Quickie Divorce in 1940s

Divorce law’s complexity gained notoriety in 1940s North Carolina.On August 18, 1945, Caldwell County residents Otis Williams and Lillie Hendrix legally married in the state of North Carolina, ending a five-year battle against bigamy charges.

The saga began in 1940, when Otis, a married storekeeper, and his handyman’s wife, Lillie, traveled to Nevada to secure divorces from their respective spouses. After spending the legally required time as “residents” of the state, divorces were granted, and Williams and Hendrix married before returning to North Carolina.

The action infuriated the first Mrs. Williams, who in retaliation brought charges of bigamy against the newlyweds. A Caldwell County court convicted the pair and delivered multiyear prison sentences for each. Subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court resulted in the overturning of that conviction, but a dogged state prosecutor continued the crusade.

By this time, the spurned Mrs. Williams had died, but her desire to see the couple jailed lived on as county courts upheld the convictions. State courts, however, ultimately decided to take pity on the pair, offering them a reprieve so long as they legally wed in state.

The case made national news, throwing a spotlight on the labyrinth-like nature of divorce law at that time.

Read more about divorce law in North Carolina on NCpedia.

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