In Colonial Days, Divorce Took an Act of Congress … And More

Wife leaves her husband in Georgia.

Wife moves in with her Boyfriend. Twelve years later, Wife and her Boyfriend move to Florida.

Wife, wanting an official divorce from her husband, applies to the legislature to grant her one. The Florida legislature grants Wife a divorce.

Wife then marries her Boyfriend. Years later, Boyfriend dies.

Boyfriend’s will leaves Wife an inheritance … an unsatisfactory inheritance.

Wife elects to reject her inheritance under Boyfriend’s will and to instead take a statutory inheritance, called dower: one-third of Husband’s lands and one-half of his property. Electing dower is irreversible and gives up any claim under a will.

Boyfriend’s Executor rejects Wife’s dower election, on the ground that Wife and Boyfriend were never legally married.

The dispute escalates to the Florida Supreme Court. Which agrees with Executor that Wife and Boyfriend were never legally married. Wife’s divorce from her first husband violates due process because he had no notice or opportunity to appear to assert his interests.

And because Wife’s first marriage was not legally terminated, Boyfriend’s and Wife’s marriage was never valid. Therefore, Wife has no legal right to dower.

Ironically, if Wife had not elected dower, she would have been entitled to keep her inheritance under Boyfriend’s will.

Although dower is no longer around, it has been succeeded by a similar legal mechanism for rejecting an unsatisfactory inheritance under a will and instead electing to take a larger statutory share.

Read more in this Tampa Tribune article: Divorce court files hold intriguing stories.