Until 1839, when a husband and wife separated, the children were deemed to be the property of the man and a mother lost all legal rights to them.
However in 1838, Caroline Norton, a woman whose involvement in politics and whose suffering at the hands of her husband were notorious, campaigned for change in the law on the custody of children.
The law which was eventually passed in 1839 would allow mothers, against whom adultery had not been proved, to have custody of children under seven and rights to access to older children. Caveats were that the Lord Chancellor had to agree it and the mother had to be of good character.
It became the first piece of feminist legislation passed into law.
To discover more changes in the law that would affect the women in your family history follow the links