In the late 19th Century when a woman married she had virtually no rights. She was regarded as an addition to the property owned by her husband. She was not equal to him in the eyes of the Law and had the same legal status as an insane person or a criminal.
All the woman’s wealth and property were controlled by her husband. She could not dispose of any belongings without his consent.
Divorce was virtually unheard of and then only restricted to the very wealthy as it required an Act of Parliament.
This situation was unacceptable to many woman especially those who wished to pursue careers.
Millicent Fawcett, a feminist politician formed the Kensington Society. This was primarily to debate parliamentary reform and the right of women to vote but also took up the cause of the property rights of married women.
The Married Women’s Property Act 1870 allowed women to keep their earnings.
The effect of The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 was that:
- A wife could hold her own wages and investments independent from her husband.
- A wife could inherit up to £200.00 in her own right and keep the money.
- Both the husband and wife could be made liable to support their children.
- A wife could keep property inherited from her next of kin as long as it was not a Trust asset.
- A wife could inherit and hold rented property.
So what is the relevance of this piece of legislation today?
Most of The Married Women’s Property Act has been repealed. Section 17 remains in force and under this Section if there is a dispute between a husband and wife as to eithers entitlement to, or a share of, possessions or property, either party can apply to the Court for a Judge to decide the share and make such Order as he thinks fit, including an Order for Sale.
The provisions of this Act are also available to formally engaged couples.
The type of situation where an application might be made include: issues about share in furniture, gifts of money, possession of a home.
If a divorce, separate of dissolution of civil partnership is ongoing these issues would be addressed in those proceedings. However if there are no such proceedings then Section 17 can still provide a possible remedy.
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