Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff married Defendant knowing that he was extremely frugal. Defendant provided Plaintiff with only meager amounts of money and Plaintiff was often forced to work individually to pay for needs. Plaintiff brought a suit to recover maintenance and support money.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A spouse cannot maintain a suit in equity to secure support or alimony when the parties are not separated or living apart. For the courts to inquire into the living standards of a family would be contrary to public policy.
Facts. Plaintiff, Lydia McGuire, married Defendant, Charles McGuire, on August 11, 1919. At the time of marriage Defendant was a bachelor of 46 or 47 years of age and had a reputation of extreme frugality, of which Plaintiff was aware. Plaintiff had been previously married and had inherited a one-third interest in 80 acres of land from her previous husband. Plaintiff brought an action against Defendant to recover suitable maintenance and support money. Plaintiff testified that defendant was a poor companion and that he would give her only small amounts of money on request. Plaintiff worked the fields and did chores. For several years she had raised chickens and sold poultry and eggs to buy clothing, things she wanted, and groceries. The house was not equipped with a bathroom, bathing facilities, or an inside toilet. Plaintiff was privileged to use all the rent money she wanted from the 80 acres of land. She used this money to visit her daughters, and Defendant provided no fu
nds for such use. Plaintiff had three abdominal operations for which Defendant paid, but Plaintiff was no longer able to raise chickens. Defendant had land in the value of $83,960, bank deposits in the sum of $12,786.81, and income of $8,000 or $9,000 a year. Defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling in favor of Plaintiff, alleging that the decree was not supported by sufficient evidence, and is contrary to law.
Issue. Was the trial court correct in its finding that when a wife is abandoned by her husband, without means of support, a bill in equity will lie to compel the husband to support the wife without asking for a divorce decree?
Held. To maintain such an action the parties must be separated or living apart from one another, therefore the trial court erred.
The trial court found that it was well-established law that it is the duty of the husband to provide for his family with support and means of living such as fit his means, position, and station of life. Previous case law had held that a wife may bring a suit in equity to secure support and alimony regardless of if the action is for divorce.
In the present case the marital relationship continued for over 33 years with no complaint from the Plaintiff regarding her support. The parties were not separated or living apart at any time. Public policy requires that the standards of a family are a matter of concern to the household, and not for the courts to determine. As long as the home is maintained and the parties are living as husband and wife the husband is legally supporting the wife.