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KNOW VOUR RIGHTS WHAT A WORKING WIFE http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/ DEPARIMtNI OF LABOR. US Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis SHOULD KNOW W Willard Wirtz, Secretary ABOUT HER LEGAL RIGHTS LtAFLtl WOMEN'S BUREAU. Maty Oobl.n Keyi»fi.nR, Oifec<or KNOW YOUR RIGHTS WHAT A WORKING WIFE S H O U L D K N O W ABOUT HER L E 6 A L R I G H T S / PREFACE Publication of a leaflet titled "Know Your Rights" was recommended by the President's Commission on the Status of Women, at the suggestion of the Committee on Civil and Political Rights, "to enable more women to bccome aware of their legal position." After studying the application of State family and property laws to married women, who as a group form the largest category of women in the labor force, the Committee came to the cop.clusion that there was need for such a leaflet "dealing with the rights and obligations which women have under existing laws." The Committee member who originated the suggestion is Mrs. Harriet F. Pilpcl, a New York attorney and a coauthor of this leaflet. CONTEN Page INTRODUCTION i DURING MARRIAGE 1 As a Homemaker—What Are Your Rights and Responsibilities in Your Home? . . . i As a Working Woman—What Are Your Rights if Y o u Take a Job Outside Your Home? . 6 WHEN MARRIAGE ENDS By Death—What Are Your Rights and Responsibilities on the Death of Your Husband? 8 . 8 By Divorce—How W i l l Your Rights and Responsibilities Be AfTccted by Separation or Divorce? 11 INTRODUCTION Today, one w o r k e r i n every three is a woman. T h r e e out of five w o m e n w o r k e r s are m a r r i e d . One o u t of three m a r r i e d w o m e n works. T o d a y , 45 percent o f a l l w o m e n age 18 t h r o u g h 6 4 are i n p a i d e m p l o y m e n t . Last year 32 m i l l i o n w o m e n w o r k e d at some t i m e d u r i n g the year. So we see that w o r k i n g f o r wages does n o t end w i t h marriage. T h e m o d e r n w o m a n can reasonably expect that she w i l l w o r k at some t i m e i n her l i f e and so is l i k e l y to be b o t h a h o m e m a k e r and a wage earner. I t is j u s t as i m p o r t a n t f o r y o u to k n o w what y o u r rights are as i t is to have those rights. I f y o u d o n ' t k n o w what y o u r rights a r e — at least i n g e n e r a l — y o u w o n ' t be able to use t h e m . This leaflet should give you a general idea of what your rights are. However, laws differ in each State concerning property, marriage and divorce, and the relations of parents and children. Historically, family and property laws provided different rights for married women than for married men. Under the old law, it has been said, husband and wife were one and that one was the husband. Many of the differences between the rights of married men and married women have been abolished, but some remain. The law governing property rights of husbands and wives in the United States today comes from two basic legal sources: • The community-property system, brought to this country by the French and Spanish settlers and in effect in eight States—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico. Texas, and Washington. # The common law brought from England which forms the legal basis for the laws in the other 42 States. The questions and answers that follow can be a general guide to your rights as a married woman who works outside her home. For further information as to what the law is in your State, write to the Women's Bureau, Department of Labor, for the material they have prepared on the legal rights of women in each State. The address is: Women's Bureau U.S. Department of Labor Washington, D.C. 20210 If you have a particular problem, you should talk to a lawyer or the nearest Legal A i d Society in your neighborhood, or consult the local Bar Association which will help you locate a lawyer. W H A T A R E Y O U R R I G H T S A N D R E S P O N S I B I L I T I E S IN Y O U R Who has the right lives? to decide where the HOME? family Y o u r husband, as the person legally responsible for family support, has the right to make this decision. Unless he agrees to a separate residence, legally you must live where he provides the home, which is usually where he works. W^ho is responsible for family support? In almost all States, your husband must support you and the children to the best of his ability. If he is sick or for some other good reason is unable to provide support, then you must support the family to the extent that you are able. I n some States, both the husband and the wife are legally obligated to pay family expenses. T h e law increasingly takes into account the need to assure the rights of a m a r r i e d woman as basic to the stability of the family. She is a better wife and mother i f she understands what her rights are. What type of support must your husband provide? Support includes "necessaries" such as food, clothing, medical care, a place to live, and other things, in accordance with your family's income and position in life. If your husband you do? does not support you, what can Whether you live in the same house or not, you can charge to your husband everything that is necessary for your support and the support of your children. If you cannot get these "necessaries" on credit, the law in all States makes special provision for the court to help you. If you need advice on the laws in your State, consult the Legal A i d Society or a family service agency. 780-250 0 - 6 5 http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/ 2 Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Can your husband assign his tvages to other than you without your consent? someone In many States he cannot arrange for his creditors to collect his wages directly from his employer. However, in some States there are no regulations. It may be helpful to find out if the law in your State permits a husband to assign his wages and, if so, whether the written consent of the wife is required. Can your husband mortgage the family furniture as a security for a loan without your consent? Approximately half the States do not allow furniture to be used as security for a loan without the signature of both husband and wife. Does the law protect taken by creditors? the family home from being In most States the family home or homestead cannot be sold to satisfy debts, except to pay the mortgage placed on the home to meet the purchase price. If your husband is injured in a ivay that affects your marriage, can you collect damages from the person tcho injured him? Generally, no. However, about a fourth of the States now permit you to bring a legal action against a third party to recover damages for injuries that interfere with your husband's support or companionship. If you are injured so that you can no longer make and manage a home for your husband and children, in most States your husband can collect damages f r o m the person who injured you. Do you have the right to any cash money your husband for your otvn use? from Legally, you have only the right to be supported i n accordance with your husband's income and mode of living. Usually, the husband and wife decide between themselves how the money and income w i l l be handled. Can you own money or other property from your husband? separately Yes. Y o u r separate property may be: • Personal property, such as money, bonds, stock, jewelry, clothing, other personal possessions. • Real property, like a house or a f a r m or a piece of land. Can you dispose of your separate out your husbantVs consent? property with- Generally, you may dispose of your personal property in any way that you wish. However, if you wish to sell or mortgage your separate real property, in the majority of States it is necessary for both you and your husband to sign the deed or legal paper, just as in many States in order for your husband to sell or mortgage his separate real property, you as well as he must sign the legal document. This is because each of you has a right to inherit a certain portion of the other's real estate and the law gives you the right to sign or refuse to sign. Are you debts? legally responsible for your husband^s Generally, no. Y o u may be responsible, however, if your husband gives you property for the purpose of keeping it out of the hands of his creditors. What is your right to a gift your husband you, such as a fur coat, jewelry, or a car? gives The gift is yours to keep, sell, or otherwise dispose of. However, if your husband's creditors insist that the gift was given to avoid payment of his debts, you may be called on to prove the gift was not made for this purpose. Who owns property bought for family use? Whether you work for wages or work in the home, your efforts as a member of the marriage partnership make it possible for the family to acquire possessions such as a house, furniture, and an automobile. In the community-property States, property acquired by joint efforts during the marriage belongs equally to husband and wife. In other States, it is a wise practice to buy the property in both names; otherwise, it belongs to the person named in the title. What are your rights to the property husband owned before marriage? your This is his separate property just as what you owned before marriage is your separate property. However, what he owned before marriage may provide you with a better basis of support and credit. Each spouse has certain inheritance rights in the separate property of the other spouse. What are your rights to the money your husband gets during marriage as a result of his work? In community-property States—Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington—money that either of you gets through earnings, or investment of earnings, or profits after your marriage goes into a common fund that belongs to both of you. In common-law States you each own what you earn. Do you have as much to say as your husband bringing up the children? about Yes, in most States you and your husband have equal rights in the care, discipline, education, and rearing of minor children. However, in a few States the husband has the preferred right. Can you make a trip, get a passport, and leave consent? the country without your husbandU Yes. DURING as a w o r k i n g w o m a n MARRIAGE W H A T A R E Y O U R R I G H T S IF Y O U T A K E A J O B O U T S I D E T H E H O M E ? Do you have the right to earn money by working outside your home whether your husband agrees or not? Yes. I n our democracy married women have the freedom to choose whether to work or not to work. However, partners to a marriage find that a major decision like this requires open and frank discussion between them before a decision is made, since it is essential that the welfare of the children receive primary consideration. Does a working mother child care expenses? have any tax offset for Yes. The Federal law and some State income tax laws permit certain deductions for child care expenses. Talk w i t h your local tax office, a lawyer, or your Legal A i d Society to find out about this. Can you have a bank account in your own name? Yes. In all States, whether you are employed or not, you do not need to have your husband's consent to start a bank account. Can you use the money you earn in any way you ivish? Yes. In most States it is your separate property and you may buy things, or invest your money, or keep it in your own bank account. However, in the 8 community-property States, earnings belong to the common fund and usually are controlled by the husband. Can you make contracts of your own as you wish? Yes. I n most States your right to make contracts is part of your right to own, hold, and sell property in your own name. Some States limit this right in regard to special kinds of contracts. For example, in some States a wife cannot guarantee the payment of another person's debt. M a r r i e d w o m e n w h o w o r k e d i n 1 9 6 3 accounted, o n t h e average, f o r a b o u t o n e - f i f t h o f the t o t a l f a m i l y i n c o m e . O f t h e m a r r i e d w o m e n w h o w o r k e d i n M a r c h 1 9 6 4 , n e a r l y t w o o u t o f five h a d c h i l d r e n u n d e r 12 vears o f age. (.an you make a contract ivith your husband? In most States you can, but in some you and your husband can do so only through a third person who acts as trustee. If you work in your husban(Vs have a legal right to be paid? business, do you No. Legally, in most States your husband does not have to pay you if you work in his business. Some States, however, allow you to make a contract with your husband which obligates him to pay you for working in his business or profession. Can you establish a separate business? Yes. I n most States you may have your own business that you can set up and run with your own property and earnings. A few States require court approval for you to do this, and some States require your husband's consent. Also, you are responsible for the debts of your own business; your husband does not have to pay them any more than you have to pay his. If your husband borrows money you make him pay it back? from you, can Yes, in most States; but you would probably have to bring a legal action to accomplish this. I f you have a problem getting borrowed money back, discuss it with a lawyer or the Legal A i d Society. If you buy or contribute money toward a major family purchase, such as a car or a television set, what are your rights to ownership? Unless there is a title or a record establishing otherwise, such purchases are generally considered to be the property of the husband. It is wise family practice to put the bill of sale in both names. This w i l l help protect your interest in the event your husband dies or the marriage ends in separation or divorce. W H E N MARRIAGE ENDS by death W H A T ARE YOUR RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES ON THE DEATH OF YOUR H U S B A N D ? Hoiv can you get money for living your husband^s estate is settled? expenses until In most States, the laws provide that small savings accounts in the husband's name may be taken by the wife right away, before his estate is probated. The limit, usually between $300 to $1,000, varies by State. Larger amounts are part of his estate and, as such, must be handled through the courts. This takes time. Y o u r husband's safe deposit box or one you own jointly with him usually will be locked upon his death until certain formal steps are taken. Therefore, it is wise to have money that you can get hold of quickly in emergencies. Money in a joint bank account usually can be drawn on immediately. Y o u may usually cash your husband's last pay check. Y o u have the right to live in the family home for at least 1 year in almost all States. Thereafter, your right to do so depends on the homestead law and the value of the home. What rights do you have in the final settlement your husband*8 estate? of I f t h e r e is n o w i l l , then in both the communityproperty and common-law States, the wife has a right to a share in her husband's separate property. The size of the share depends on whether there are also surviving children, grandchildren, or in some States, parents and other relatives. Statistics show t h a t , o n the average, w o m e n l i v e 7 years l o n g e r t h a n m e n a n d are 3 years y o u n g e r t h a n t h e i r husbands at m a r r i a g e . A w i f e m a y , t h e r e f o r e , expect t o l i v e 1 0 years a f t e r h e r h u s b a n d dies. Property rights and f a m i l y support after the death of the husband are, t h e r e f o r e , i m p o r t a n t questions f o r w o m e n . E i t h e r spouse m a y m a k e a w i l l . In the communityproperty States, he or she may usually dispose of his half of the community property. I n both the community-property and the common-law States, either spouse may dispose of his separate property by will allowing, however, in most States, for the right of the other spouse to reject the will and claim the minimum share which the law says he or she is entitled to receive. LIFE EXPECTANCY Does your husband^s death affect money or erty held in your separate name? prop- No. That is yours and is not affected by your husband's death. W H E N MARRIAGE ENDS . How can you and your husband take effective action during your lifetimes to protect each other''s interests after death? The title in which property is held directly affects the right of the surviving spouse to inherit it after the other spouse's death. Depending on your circumstances and what kind of property is involved, there are some arrangements that may be better for you than others. Keep this in mind and get legal advice when you purchase real or other property. W^hat about the support husband's death? of the children after your I t becomes your responsibility. Some States by statute require allowances to be paid out of the estate for the http://fraser.stlouisfed.org/ 10 Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis support of minor children. I f there is no will, the court w i l l consider the child's welfare in settling the estate. I f you or your husband makes a will, neither of you is required, except in Louisiana, to leave any property to your child. I n most States, though, the court may appoint a representative to act for a minor child. Acting through this representative, the minor child who is not provided fcr in a will may challenge the will on the grounds of fraud, undue influence, or lack of the parent's capacity to make the will, if the circumstances warrant. If such a claim is proved, the court may award a share of the estate to the child. by divorce lo luX^qUt lOJ iOvowoH . ob m ^jd ^^feii Statistics o n divorces i n the U n i t e d States a r e somewhat i n f l a t e d , since they i n c l u d e t h e n o t i n c o n s i d e r a b l e n u m b e r o f persons whose second a n d t h i r d m a r r i a g e s also e n d i n d i v o r c e . M a n y couples w h o are p e r m a n e n t l y separated d o n o t get a f o r m a l d i v o r c e . W h e n e v e r a m a r r i a g e f a i l s , questions o f p r o p e r t y r i g h t s a n d s u p p o r t are v e r y i m p o r t a n t . H e r e a r e some guidelines t o h e l p y o u . if,>ibii;J"i mi I mi xmn ;>!iw no gnfbrwqt/b If your marriage breaks up, ivhat is the best way to handle the questions about the children, support, and property that will arise? Y o u and your husband each should have your own lawyer. If you do not have one, consult the Legal A i d Society or the local Bar Association. W i t h the help of your own lawyer, you should try to reach an agreement with your husband about the children, support, and property. I n most States such an agreement, if it is fair and just, w i l l be accepted by courts and is binding. I f you cannot reach an agreement with your husband, then the following questions and answers apply. 11 H O W WILL YOUR RIGHTS A N D RESPONSIBILITIES BE AFFECTED BY S E P A R A T I O N OR DIVORCE? If you are separated but not divorced from your husband and he does not support you, what can you do? Y o u may start a legal action for support. Even if your husband leaves your home State, you can sue him there, and other States will enforce the order of your home State's courts. Ask a lawyer or your Legal A i d Society what public or private agency you should consult to enforce this right. If it becomes necessary to divorce your husband, ivill he be required to pay you alimony? I t depends on the circumstances. A l l but 2 States permit the court, in its discretion, to award the wife alimony on final divorce. Eleven States also permit the court to award a husband alimony. In making its decision, the court will review the situation in the particular case. Who will be required to support the children? The husband's primary responsibility for support of his children is not ended by divorce. However, the wife may be required to assume certain responsibilities, depending on her means and ability to do so. If you are legally separated or divorced, do you have as much to say about bringing up the chiU dren as your husband? Unless you have in some way shown yourself to be an unfit mother, most States will give you the right to have the children live with you and be brought up by you. The courts consider the best interests of the child, and this usually—particularly in the case of young children —means that the children live with their mother. Of course, unless there is some valid reason to the contrary, the father generally has the right to be consulted on all important questions involving the children, and the court usually grants him the right to visit with them and to have them stay with him from time to time. In divorce, how is your family property divided? In the common-law States, the court tends to divide the joint property equally and to allow each to keep his or her separate property, In some few States, the person who is legally at fault in a divorce action may lose valuable property rights. In the community-property States, the property is usually divided in the same way. However, in 2 of the 8 community-property States, each party is entitled, under the law, to an exact half of the community property irrespective of cause of divorce. XX REMEMBER 14 For a report concerning the law of your State, write to the Women's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, Washington, D.C., 20210. When you have a personal problem, talk to a private attorney or to your local Legal A i d Society. Y o u will find the number of the Society in your telephone book. U S GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE : 1985 0 - 7 8 0 - 2 5 0 P r e p a r e d for the U . S . D e p a r t m e n t of L a b o r W o m e n ' s Bureau by H a r r i e t F. P i l p e l and Minna Post Peyser