Described as “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women”, International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity for women across the world to pause and reflect on how far we have come, and how far we still have to go, in achieving gender equality.
As a Family lawyer, it is a particularly good time to consider how much the law has changed, particularly in relation to the perception of married women and their role within our society. Whilst outdated views do still exist and are held by some, the numbers of those believing that women’s roles are restricted to being child bearers and homemakers have significantly declined.
It’s not difficult to understand why such views on ‘women’s duties’ were so widely held, particularly when these attitudes were imposed and encouraged by our own legal system. To demonstrate just how much our legal system has progressed in the last few decades, we’ve put together a selection of (thankfully now outdated!) laws which related to married couples. It’s worth noting that all of these laws were still in force as recently as 1984, and were abolished by the Law Reform (Husband and Wife) (Scotland) Act 1984.
Breach of promise of marriage
Ditched at the alter? Engagement called off? Well, if you’d been living during the times of Longmore v. Massie in 1883, you could have been entitled to damages for your troubles! Breaching your promise to marry previously meant that you could be risking paying damages to your heartbroken ex, both for their pecuniary loss and injury to their feelings.
The case of Hogg v Gow in 1812 really rubbed salt in the wounds though, advising that the jilted bride-to-be was now less desirable, “her heart is used; it is worn; she is less attractive to others.”‘ Lovely.
Enticement of a spouse
If you’d found someone chatting up your other half on a night out as recently as the early 80s, you might’ve been entitled to seek some damages there too. Although there were no recorded instances of damages being awarded for enticement in Scotland, it still remained a possibility in law until the 1984 Act was brought in.
Husband’s right to choose matrimonial home
If your husband’s taste in architecture is mediocre at best, you’d have been right to be particularly concerned about this common law rule. It was considered completely normal at common law for the husband to have the “right” to choose the place of the matrimonial residence, with the wife having the corresponding duty to accompany him there. Said duty of the wife was only enforceable if the accommodation selected by the husband was reasonably suitable, and his offer of accommodation itself was genuine. How generous!
Wives as ‘domestic managers’
In 2023, we might hope that the burden of the domestic chores and household purchasing is shared between couples living together, depending on their circumstances.
However, pre-1984, it was a presumption in law that a wife was ‘praeposita negotiis domesticis’, i.e., placed by her husband in charge of his domestic establishment. This meant that a wife was presumed to be the one responsible for buying food, clothing, medicine, household services and other household necessities, and her husband in charge of providing her the money to do so. In essence, this rule meant that the husband would always have a hand on the purse strings.
This rule was addressed in the 1984 Act partly due to it’s discriminatory nature, as it was based on the belief that the household is the husband’s establishment, which he allows the wife to manage, rather than the running of a household being a collaborative undertaking by a couple working together.
It’s clear we’ve come quite some way since 1984, and thankfully the rules discussed here, amongst many other antiquated laws, are no longer with us in the present day. We wonder what rules currently being enforced in 2023 will be discussed with the same disbelief in another 40 years’ time?
Gemma Nimmo, Solicitor: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0141 221 8012