While Las Vegas may be thought of as a place to get married quickly, nearly a hundred years ago Reno, Nevada, already had the reputation as a place to go for divorces. In 1910, the city was considered the divorce capital, allowing residency requirements in the city to be shortened, and therefore allowing divorces to be as fast as possible.
Known as the Biggest Little City, Reno today may be known more for the Comedy Central program, Reno 911. However, this comedy doesn't begin to explore the history of this small place and the need its citizens and tourists may have for a bit of Reno Law.
Quickie divorces have been available in Nevada even earlier than 1898, when lawyers of more populated cities, such as New York, discovered that the divorce laws in Nevada had not changed since the state was a territory. It wasn't until 1913, when social movements to reform morality across the United States forced the hand of state representatives and caused them to change the half-year residency requirement to a full year, which was the same requirement of every other state. If a married couple wanted a quick divorce, they could no longer go to Nevada to do it.
Business owners and those representing the desire to again reduce the requirements to six months began lobbying the state legislature, and three years later, in 1915, their wish was granted. Reducing the wait for a divorce to six months allowed revenues to increase so much that there was another push for the residency laws to be changed to a three month wait in 1927. In 1931, the residency laws changed again. Now only a six week wait was required.
Because of these changes, the Nevada six week requirement allowed 517 divorce suits with 331 decrees to be declared in the first month that the new requirement took effect. No longer were people turning to lawyers in Los Angeles and cities in other states, but to Nevada.The number of divorces began skyrocketing: In 1926, there were 1,021 divorces; in 1927, 1,953 divorces; in 1931, 5,260 divorces! By the time a decade had passed, in 1940, Nevada was carrying out 49 out of every 1,000 divorces in the United States.
This raked in a good deal of money, bringing in an estimate of about five million a year to Nevada's hotels, restaurants, merchants, and casinos. Because of its proximity to California and Hollywood, there were a great number of celebrity divorce cases filed in Reno as well, including such people as Jack Dempsey, Mary Pickford, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr., and Estelle Taylor.
Today Reno is no longer the center of divorce the way it once was a hundred years ago. People may head for Reno to enjoy its natural settings more for its proximity to Lake Tahoe or to see its local museums, such as the National Automobile Museum or the Thermal Sky Sports. People may even just want to see where the exteriors for Reno 911 were taped. Still, it may yet be another 100 years before Reno's legend as a divorce capital fully becomes history.