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Women Before the CourtLaw and Patriarchy in the Anglo-American World, 1600-1800$
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Lindsay R. Moore

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781526136336

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7765/9781526136343

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Wives and (unwed) mothers: women’s claims for financial support

Wives and (unwed) mothers: women’s claims for financial support

(p.81) 4 Wives and (unwed) mothers: women’s claims for financial support
Women Before the Court

Lindsay R. Moore

Manchester University Press

This chapter assesses the legal power of wives, midwives and mothers in the legal regimes of Anglo-America. Though under coverture, wives clearly had a right to petition the courts to compel neglectful husbands to provide them with financial maintenance. Husbands had a patriarchal responsibility to provide for their wives and children, and magistrates had an interest in holding men accountable to their obligations to care for their families. Laws regarding divorce and marital separation differed by location. In England and the southern colonies, especially the Chesapeake and South Carolina, authorities granted full divorces in very few instances. In the New England colonies, however, magistrates permitted couples who could not live harmoniously together to divorce, an agreement which negated any obligation of the husband to provide for his wife. Remarkably, in cases of illegitimacy in all areas of the Anglo-American world, a man who fathered children out of wedlock still had a patriarchal responsibility to provide financial support to his family. Mothers of these children, often supported by midwives, could legally claim financial support from the men they named as the father of their children, even if the fathers denied the women’s accusations.

Keywords:   midwives, mothers, petition, coverture, divorce, marital separation, New England, Chesapeake, South Carolina, illegitimacy

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