Married Women's Property Acts: 1870 & 1882
The Married Women's Property Act 1870 was an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that allowed women to legally be the rightful owners of the money they earned and to inherit property.
Prior to this enactment any money made by a woman either through a wage, from investment, by gift, or through inheritance automatically became the property of her husband once she got married. In contrast, single and widowed women already had the right to own property in their own names. A long and energetic campaign by different women's groups and some men led to the passing of this Act. The Married Women's Property Act of 1870 provided that wages and property which a wife earned through her own work would be regarded as her separate property. It also put a legal duty on married women to maintain their children alongside their husbands.
A major loophole was that any property a woman had in her own name before marriage legally became her husband's property. However, after the marriage, she could inherit property in her own name from her next of kin. The act was not retroactive; thus, any woman who married prior to this act coming into legal effect could not recover property she had held before marriage (if she had any). This greatly limited the effect this act had on married women. This law could also be easily be evaded, as any property put into a trust was not affected by this act.
After the 1880 General Election William Gladstone became Prime Minister of a government that promised legislation that would reduce the legal inequalities between men and women. One example of this was the passing of the 1882 Married Women's Property Act. Under the terms of the act married women had the same rights over their property as unmarried women. This act therefore allowed a married woman to retain ownership of property which she might have received as a gift from a parent. Before the 1882 Married Women's Property Act was passed this property would have automatically have become the property of the husband.
The Act altered the common law doctrine of coverture to include the wifes right to own, buy and sell her separate property. Wives' legal identities were also restored, as the courts were forced to recognize a husband and a wife as two separate legal entities. Married womens legal rights included the right to sue and be sued. Any damages a wife might pay would be her own responsibility, instead of that of her husband. Married women were then also liable for their own debts, and any outside trade they owned was subject to bankruptcy laws. Further, married women were able to hold stock in their own names.
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