OLR Research Report


October 15, 2002 2002-R-0850

HISTORY OF CIVIL MARRIAGE IN CONNECTICUT: SELECTED CHANGES

"Although a marital relationship is in its origins contractual, depending as it does upon the consent of the parties, a contract of marriage is unique in that it is simply introductory to creation of a status, and what that status is the law determines" Carabetta v. Carabetta, 142 Conn. 344 (1980).

Connecticut's earliest marriage laws reflected the influence of English common law and Western Christian traditions. Generally, they reflected the view of marriage as a lifelong, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman, formed by mutual consent. Once the marital relationship was created, the common (judge-made) law set its social, political, and economic terms. The rule of "coverture", which originated in England, gave the husband control of his wife's property, obligating him, in turn, to protect and support her and their children.

The laws governing marriage have changed significantly over time. General trends appear to be toward easing the rules for entering and leaving marriages and equalizing the economic consequences associated with marriage and divorce for husbands and wives. Although marriage is still based on mutual consent of a man and a woman, laws treating married couples as a single economic and political unit have largely disappeared. And the state's original strong disapproval of divorce has given way to a no-fault divorce scheme. Uniform rules governing alimony and property division have given way to equitable distribution principles.

This Backgrounder describes Connecticut's statutory, and to a lesser extent, judge-made law at four points in time: 1792, 1888, 1930, and 2002. The charts below show, for each of those years: (1) who could and could not marry, (2) people authorized to perform marriage ceremonies, (3) marital property rights and financial support obligations, and (4) divorce and property distribution standards.

We have included a list of further reading with hyperlinks to documents that are available online; legislators and staff can ask OLR for copies of anything listed.

Table 1: Who Can Marry and Under What Conditions

Year

Marriage Requirements

1792

· Notice of intent to marry must be publicly posted for at least 8 days before marriage

· Parent must give written consent for marriage of person still subject to his supervision (generally under age 21)

· Male must be at least age 14, female at least age 12

· Divorce places 15-year bar on remarriage

· Marriage between people related by blood or marriage by degrees of kindred forbidden by Leviticus Chapter 18 is prohibited (e. g. , no man can marry his grandfather's wife, wife's grandmother, father's sister, mother's sister, father's brother's wife, mother's brother's wife, wife's father's sister, wife's mother's sister, father's wife, wife's mother, daughter, wife's daughter, son's wife, sister, brother's wife, son's daughter, daughter's daughter, son's son's wife, daughter's son's wife, wife's son's daughter, wife's daughter's daughter, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, brother's son's wife, or sister's son's wife)

1888

· One of the partners must inform town registrar of the couple's intention to marry and provide required information

· Parent or guardian must give written permission for marriage of minor (under age 21)

· Minimum age for marriage not specified in statute

· No disqualification period for previous divorce

· Clerk must issue certificate when required information has been provided

· Marriage between blood relatives more closely related than first cousins prohibited (i. e. , no man can marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, or niece); stepparent and stepchild marriages also prohibited

1930

· Both partners must apply to registrar for license and provide required information under oath

· Guardian or conservator must give written consent for marriage of minor or person under conservatorship

· Both partners must be at least age 16 unless marriage authorized by town selectman

· Epileptics, "imbeciles", and "feeble-minded" who marry before the female partner reaches age 45 are subject to 3-year prison term; people who assist or countenance marriage of epileptics, imbeciles, feeble-minded, or paupers when female partner is under age 45 subject to $ 1,000 fine, 5-year jail term, or both

· No disqualification period for previous divorce

· 5-day waiting period unless probate judge provides registrar written decision that public policy or physical condition of one of the partners requires immediate marriage

· Same degrees of kinship as in 1888 (see above)

2002

· Both partners must appear before town registrar and provide required information under oath

· Guardian or conservator must give town registrar written consent for marriage of someone under age 18 or subject to conservatorship

· Both partners must be at least age 16 unless probate judge gives written consent

· No disqualification period for previous divorce

· Partners must submit proof of venereal disease examination and female must be tested for, and counseled about, rubella immunity; probate judge can waive

· No waiting period

· Same degrees of kinship as in 1888 (see above)

Table 2: Who Can Perform Marriage Ceremony

Year

Officiating Authority

1792

Magistrates, justices of the peace within their territorial jurisdiction, and ordained ministers in the county where they are settled in the work of the ministry

1888

All judges, justices of the peace, and ordained or licensed clergymen from Connecticut or any other state so long as they continue in the work of the ministry; but all marriages that are solemnized according to the forms and usages of any religious denomination in the state are valid

1930

Same as in 1888 (above)

2002

All judges and retired judges, family support magistrates, state referees, justices of the peace anywhere in the state; all ordained or licensed clergymen from Connecticut or any other state so long as they continue in the work of the ministry; all marriages solemnized according to the forms and usages of any religious denomination in this state, including marriages witnessed by a duly constituted Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is

Table 3: Marital Property Rights and Financial Obligations

Year

Rights and Obligations

1792

· Common law coverture - married woman's property becomes her husband's during the marriage

· A married woman's legal identity merges with her husband's -- he is the only "person" recognized under law; wife cannot contract; buy or sell property; collect wages, fees, or rents; sue or be sued; or dispose of her property by will

· Husband must support wife and minor children

· Widow entitled to 1/3 of husband's estate if he dies without leaving a will; also to "dower" - 1/3 of deceased husband's real property during her lifetime

1888

    · Neither husband nor wife acquires by virtue of the marriage any interest in the real or personal property of the other during that person's lifetime (applies to marriages contracted on and after April 20, 1877, although previously married couples can, by contract, abandon property rights or disabilities created during coverture; other special rules for marriages contracted between 1849 and 1877)

    · Women can contract; sue and be sued; and buy, sell, and will property; are generally responsible for their own debts, but not their husbands'

    · Husband must support wife and minor children

    · Dower eliminated for all marriages contracted after April 20, 1877, but surviving spouse entitled to elect statutory share (1/3 of deceased's real and personal property for life) instead of a share of the property that would pass under will

    · By force of marriage, husband and wife both acquire an absolute interest (the size of the interest varies with the number of surviving members of the deceased spouse's family) in all property, real and personal, legally or equitably owned by the other at the time of his or her death; can be waived by contract or abandonment of spouse prior to death

1930

    · Essentially the same as in 1888 (above)

2002

    · Essentially the same as in 1888 (above), but support obligation is mutual and both parents must support children

Table 4: Divorce and its Consequences

Year

Grounds for Divorce

Support Criteria

1792

    · adultery,

    · fraudulent contract,

    · willful desertion for 3 years, or

    · seven years absence without being heard of

If wife is innocent party, so much of the husband's estate as the court determines is just, not to exceed 1/3; can elect alimony instead

Wife cannot be ordered to pay alimony

1888

Same as in 1792 (above); also

    · any infamous crime involving a violation of conjugal duty and punishable by imprisonment,

    · habitual intemperance,

    · intolerable cruelty, or

    · sentence to life imprisonment

Court can assign part of husband's estate, not to exceed 1/3, to wife as alimony

Wife cannot be ordered to pay alimony

1930

Same as in 1888 (above); also

    · incurable insanity when one partner has been confined in an asylum or hospital for 5 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition

One-third cap on alimony eliminated

Court considers amount of husband's income, whether already acquired or from his personal daily exertions, or both; can alter or set aside order to pay alimony at any time

When divorce based on wife's misconduct, court can order return to husband of property he gave her in consideration of their marriage, or of love and affection

2002

    · irretrievable breakdown of the marriage,

    · the parties have lived apart by reason of incompatibility for a continuous period of at least 18 months prior to the filing of the complaint and there is no reasonable prospect that they will be reconciled,

    · adultery,

    · fraudulent contract,

    · willful desertion for 1 year,

    · seven years absence,

    · habitual intemperance,

    · intolerable cruelty,

    · sentence to imprisonment for life or the commission of any infamous crime involving a violation of conjugal duty and punishable by imprisonment for a period of 1 year, or

    · confinement in mental hospital for an accumulated period of 5 of the last 6 years immediately preceding the filing of the petition

Equitable distribution, with property and alimony treated separately

Court can order either party to pay alimony

Factors considered in setting alimony amount:

    · length of the marriage;

    · cause of the dissolution;

    · each party's age, health, station, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, estate, and needs; and

    · non-monetary contributions of homemaker

Factors considered in dividing property: same as above; also

    · the contribution of each of the parties to the acquisition, preservation, or appreciation in value of their respective estates and

    · the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income

FURTHER READING

OLR Backgrounders on Related Topics

Connecticut Marriage Laws

Connecticut Divorce Laws

Connecticut Cases

Treatises and Law Reviews