New Jersey’s Married Women’s Property Act: “Useless and Demeaning”

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The New Jersey Law Revision Committee has recommended the repeal of that state’s Married Women’s Property Act:

When enacted, the married women’s property acts served a purpose.   Under common law rules in the early 19th century, married women, as opposed to married men and unmarried women, had restricted legal and property rights.   The married women’s property acts changed those rules.  

The married women’s property acts now seem to be a demeaning relic.   These statutes serve no current purpose; no one would now suggest that by marrying, a woman loses her rights to own, control and dispose of property.   Whatever the accepted common law principles may have been 150 years ago, they are different today.   The common law has been affected by changes in society and practice.   No court would find that the common law requires the kind of discrimination that was accepted in the 19th century….The repeal of the married women’s property acts will have no substantive effect….The repeal will just remove a part of the New Jersey Statutes that is useless and demeaning.

The Committee’s full report is available here.  

For more on the history of the Married Women’s Property Acts, see Norma Basch‘s book, In the Eyes of the Law: Women, Marriage, and Property in Nineteenth-Century New York (Cornell University Press, 1982).   Basch’s book has a New York focus and is over 20 years old,  but it remains one of the best general overviews  of the subject.

-Bridget Crawford

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