WIFE. A woman who has a husband. - Steven J. Coker
Subject: WIFE. A woman who has a husband.
From: Steven J. Coker
Date: September 24, 1998

Extracted From:
   by John Bouvier

WIFE, domestic relations. A woman who has a husband. 
   A wife, as such, possesses rights and is liable to obligations. These will be
   -1st. She may make contracts for the purchase of real estate for her own
benefit, unless her husband expressly dissents. 6 Binn. R. 427. And she is
entitled to a legacy directly given to her for her separate use. 6 Serg. &
Rawle, R. 467. In some places, by statutory provision, she may act as a feme
sole trader, and as such acquire personal property. 2 Serg. & Rawle, R. 289. 
   -2d. She may in Pennsylvania, and in most other states, convey her interest
in her own or her husband's lands by deed acknowledged in a form prescribed by
law. 8 Dowl. R. 630. 
   -3d. She is under obligation to love, honor and obey her husband and is bound
to follow him wherever he may desire to establish himself: 5 N. S. 60; (it is
presumed not out of the boundaries of the United States,) unless the husband, by
acts of injustice and such as are contrary to his marital duties, renders her
life or happiness insecure. 
   -4th. She is not liable for any obligations she enters into to pay money on
any contract she makes, while she lives with her husband; she is presumed in
such case to act as the agent of her husband. Chitty, Contr. 43 
   -5th. The incapacities of femes covert, apply to their civil rights, and are
intended for their protection and interest. Their political rights stand upon
different grounds, they can, therefore, acquire and lose a national character.
These rights stand upon the general principles of the law of nations. Harp. Eq.
R. 5 3 Pet. R. 242. 
   -6th. A wife, like all other persons, when she acts with freedom, may be
punished for her criminal acts. But the law presumes, when she commits in his
presence a crime, not malum in se, as murder or treason, that she acts by the
command and coercion of her husband, and, upon this ground, she is exempted from
punishment. Rose. on Cr. Ev. 785. But this is only a presumption of law, and if
it appears, upon the evidence, that she did not in fact commit the act under
compulsion, but was herself a principal actor and inciter in it, she may be
punished. 1 Hale, P. C. 516; 1 Russ. on Cr. 16, 20. Vide Contract; Divorce;
Husband; Incapacity; Marriage; Necessaries; Parties to actions; Parties to
contracts; Women and, generally, Bouv. Inst. Index, 

WIFE'S EQUITY. By this phrase is understood the equitable right of a wife to
have settled upon her and her children a suitable provision out of her estate
whenever the husband cannot obtain it, without the aid of a court of equity.
Shelf. on M. and D., 605. 
   By the marriage the husband acquires an interest in the property of his wife
in consideration of the obligation which he contracts by the marriage, of
maintaining her and their children. The common law enforces this duty thus
voluntarily assumed by him, and he can alien the property to which he is thus
entitled jure mariti, or in case of his bankruptcy or insolvency it would vest
in his assignee for the benefit of his creditors, and the wife would be left
with her children, entirely destitute, notwithstanding her fortune may have been
great. To remedy this evil, courts of equity, in certain cases, give a provision
to the wife, which is called the wife's equity. 
   The principle upon which courts of equity act is, that he who seeks the aid
of equity must do equity, and that will be withheld until an adequate settlement
has been made. 1 P. Wms. 459, 460. See 5 My. & Cr. 105; 11 Sim. 569; 4 Hare, 6. 
   It will be proper to consider, 1. Out of what property the wife has a right
to claim her equity to a settlement. 2. Against whom she may make such a claim.
3. Her rights. 4. The rights of her children. 5. When her rights to a settlement
will be barred. 
   -1. Where the property is equitable and not recoverable at law, it cannot be
obtained without making a settlement upon a wife and children, if one be
required by her 2 P. Wins. 639; and where, though the property be legal in its
nature, it becomes, from collateral circumstances, the subject of a suit in
equity, the wife's right to a settlement will attach. 5 My. & Cr. 97. See 2 Ves.
jun., 607, 680; 4 Bro. C. C, 338; 3 Ves. 166, 421; 9 Ves. 87; 5 Madd. R. 149; 5
Ves. 517; 13 Maine, 124 10 Ala. R. 401; 9 Watts, 90; 5 John. Ch. R. 464; 3
Cowen, 591; 6 Paige, 366; 2 Bland. 545; 2 Paige, 303. 
   -2. The wife's equity to a settlement is binding not only upon the husband,
but upon his assignee under the bankrupt or insolvent laws. 2 Atk. 420; 3 Ves.
607; 4 Bro. C. C. 138; 6 John. Ch. R. 25; 1 Paige, 620; 4 Metc. 486; 4 Gill &
John. 283; 5 Monr. 338; 10 Ala. R. 401 1 Kelly, 637. And even where the husband
assigned the wife's equitable right for a valuable consideration, the assignee
was considered liable. 4 Ves. 19. 
   -3. As to the amount of the rights of the wife, the general rule is that one
half of the wife's property shall be settled upon her. 2 Atk. 423; 3 Ves. 166.
But it is in the discretion of the court to give her, an adequate settlement for
herself and children. 5 John. Ch. R. 464; 6 John. Ch. R. 25; 3 Cowen, 591; 1
Desaus. 263: 2 Bland. 545; 1 Cox, R. 153; 5 B. Monr. 31; 3 Kelly, 193; 1 D, & W.
407; 9 Sim, 597; 1 S. & S. 250. 
   -4. Whenever the wife insists upon her equity, the right will be extended to
her children, but the right is strictly personal to the wife, and her children
cannot insist upon it after her death. 2 Eden, 337; 1 J. & W. 472; 1 Madd. R.
467; 11 Bligh, N. S. 104; 2 John. Ch. R. 206; 3 Cowen, 591; 10 Ala. R. 401; 1
Sanf. 129. 
   -5. The wife's equity will be barred, first, by an adequate settlement having
been made upon her; 2 Ves. 675; when she lives in adultery apart from her
husband 4 Ves. 146; but a female ward of court, married without its consent,
will not be barred, although she should be living in adultery. 1 V. & B. 302. 

WIDOW. An unmarried woman whose husband is dead. 
   In legal writings, widow is an addition given to a woman who is unmarried and
whose husband is dead. The addition of spinster is given to a woman who never
was married. Lovel. on Wills, 269. See Addition. As to the rights of a widow,
seq Dower. 

WIDOW'S CHAMBER, Eng. law. In London the apparel of a widow and the furniture of
her chamber, left by her deceased husband, is so called, and the widow is
entitled to it. 2 Bl. Com. 518. 

WIDOWHOOD. The state of a man whose wife is dead or of a woman whose husband is
dead. In general there is no law to regulate the time during which a man must
remain a widower, or a woman a widow, before they marry a second time. The term
widowhood is mostly applied to the state or condition of a widow. 

WIDOWER. A man whose wife is dead. A widower has a right to administer to his
wife's separate estate, and as her administrator to collect debts due to her,
generally for his own use.

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