Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



According to the common law a husband was entitled to his wife's earnings and most of her personal property in addition to the pleasure of her company and services in the home. These advantages have been considered the quid pro quo for the man's duty of support. Today, because of legislation, most of a husband's legal control over the income and means of his wife is gone. If a husband's duty to support is to be grounded in a reciprocal benefit to him, that benefit is derived almost wholly from the wife's obligation to be a wife and to live with her husband. To a male, the chief economic advantages of marriage are the voluntary contributions by the wife whether of earnings, estate or services.

The wife's duty of cohabitation is not the only reason given for the rules about support. One commentator has suggested that the duty of support flows from a wife's common-law position as a near-chattel;' another has said that the duty is founded upon feudal principles. I offer another point of view. The law, especially as it is set forth in the appellate cases, frequently gives us the picture of an ideal. The stated rules often give a kind of reality to cherished myth."Ought to be" can become the basis for court action when our lives 'come a cropper" because of the world, the flesh and the devil. I suggest that this aspect of the law's role accounts, in part, for the stated doctrine in the support cases.