1858 – 1866 A series of scarce stamps in 5 issues (Barefoot 1 – 27) used to pay the costs incurred by appellants to the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes.
Prior to The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, divorce was purely a technical possibility for the super- rich who were able either to petition the ecclesiastical Court of Arches for an annulment or have a private bill passed in the House of Commons. However, although the number of petitions went up from 3, in the year prior to the change in the law, to 300 in the year after the law was changed, the process was still difficult because although the Act allowed legal separation by either husband or wife on grounds of adultery, cruelty, or desertion, it explicitly made divorce easier for men than for women.
A husband could petition for divorce on the sole grounds that his wife had committed adultery; whereas a wife could only hope for a divorce based on adultery combined with other offences such as incest, cruelty, bigamy, desertion, etc., or based on cruelty alone. The act also required that a suit by a husband for adultery name the adulterer as a co-respondent, whereas this was not required in a suit by a wife.
The costs of legal representation together with the continued social stigma attached to divorce meant that these Matrimonial Cause revenue stamps were among the least issued and used and therefore the scarcest of all GB revenues.