ISSUED: 9-81
Shirley Cunningham, J.D., former State Extension Specialist in Agricultural Economics
Helen M. Stevens, State Extension Specialist in Family Economics
Carol Bailey, County Home Economics Extension Agent

Historically, women have had difficulty gaining the legal and social rights allowed men. In rare instances during feudal times, women of aristocratic birth were allowed to rule their male subjects, thus giving these women rights not permitted some men.
Throughout American history, there has been constant interplay for equal rights between the sexes and between single and married women. In reality, women fail into two legal statuses: one applies to the single woman and one to the married woman.
Despite her sex, the single woman often enjoys most of the rights and freedoms of a man: she can enter into legal transactions, own and dispose of property, have a name and a nationality of her own, and establish her own domicile.
When she marries, the woman loses some or all of these rights depending upon the state in which she resides. For example, in some states, only the father has authority over the children, and in Kentucky, the woman must use her husband's last name on her driver's license. Few laws deprive the married man of the rights that he enjoyed as a bachelor.
American laws have been developing since colonial times. They are based primarily on English common law with some influence from Spain and France. In 1776, the women's rights movement started with Abigail Adams urging her husband John Adams, even pleading and threatening rebellion, to get a law passed in Congress allowing women the right to vote.
Even though women hunted and fought Indians, journeyed on horseback or went by boat across the wilderness, tended the fields and even carried on the business, when widowed they were regarded by law as inferior, a person to be protected. A woman's place was in the home and in the role of motherhood. The man was the protector and the provider.
Laws benefiting women have evolved slowly. Women were allowed to vote only as late as 1920, long after the Civil War and after black men were given the right to vote.
Prior to 1891, if a woman owned property at the time of her marriage, all of it became her husband's to handle as he wished. She could not sue or be sued, and if she took a job, her husband had the right to collect and spend her wages. At his death, he could will the guardianship of children to some other male. Between 1891 and 1894, married women could not fully dispose of their property by will. After 1894, married women had the right to dispose of their whole estate by will.
According to Helen Deiss Irwin in Women In Kentucky (University of Kentucky Press, 1979), Kentucky was one of the most backward states in obtaining legal rights for women. She recorded that Kentucky drifted along in a political backwater.
Despite the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal legal protection to all, some distinctions remain which leave women, particularly married women, victims.
Social custom, too, restricts the independence of both spouses as much as or more than legal restraints. The idea of "the woman's place" and "the man's place" still poses a real threat to equality of the sexes. Courts often rule on this philosophy.
One of the main difficulties lies in the interpretation and enforcement of the existing laws. It is essential for everyone to understand today's laws, amendments, statutes and special cases and their strengths and weaknesses as they affect the equal rights of women, if women are to assume their equal status in society.

Property Ownership
Though marriage once gave the husband an estate and interest in his wife's property, this is no longer true in Kentucky. A husband gets no interest (except curtesy right) in any property his wife owned at the time or acquired after marriage during his life. Further, during the marriage relationship, the wife has separate and exclusive use of her property. This property is completely free from the debts, liabilities or control of her husband. The husband does, however, have what is called a "curtesy right" in his wife's property as does the wife have a "dower right" in her husband's property.
A married woman, like a man, can hold property, sue and be sued, make property transactions, and collect and receive rents in her own name. Real property owned by a married woman or man can be conveyed or mortgaged free from any claims by the spouse by a court of equity and judgment when he or she has been adjudged mentally incompetent.
The husband is not ordinarily liable for his wife's debts contracted or incurred before or after marriage. However, he is liable for such debts to the amount or value of the property he received from her by virtue of the marriage. Also, the husband is primarily liable for necessities furnished to his wife during marriage. Examples of "necessities" include medical and funeral expenses. It seems logical that necessities should include a suitable home in which to live. However, the determination of what are deemed necessities depends upon the economic and social status of the parties.
When necessities are purchased on credit extended to the husband personally, the wife has no liability. The wife is secondarily liable if credit is extended for necessities to the wife personally, and the husband failed to pay for them.
Ironically, Kentucky law places no general obligation on the wife to support her husband. Common law does impose on a wife, however, the duty to render domestic services in return for support.

In order for a couple to solemnize a marriage, they must first have had a medical examination within 15 days prior to applying for a marriage license from the county court clerk's office. After obtaining a marriage license there is a three-day waiting period before the couple can be married. The license is valid for 30 days after issuance. Marriage may be solemnized generally only by ministers, judges, county officials, religious societies or justices of the peace. At least two persons other than the couple being married and the person marrying them must attend the ceremony. Kentucky law does not recognize the marriage of: 1 ) persons who have been adjudged incompetent, 2 ) persons not legally divorced from a living spouse, 3) persons not married by an authorized person, 4) persons under the age of 18 without consent and 5) persons of blood relations nearer than second cousins.
Kentucky law does not recognize common law marriages attempted to be contracted within this state. Kentucky courts do recognize as valid common law marriages contracted in states where such marriages are allowed.
State law says that, during marriage, the husband may choose the spouse's domicile (acquired by physically living in a place with intent to remain for an indefinite time), though good faith must be exercised in doing so.

A woman is not required by law to take her husband's last name. Thus, a woman can use her birth name, former name, or hyphenated name so long as it is not used for fraudulent purposes. However, Kentucky law does require a married woman to use her husband's surname on her driver's license.
A child born out of wedlock must be given the surname of its mother. When paternity is established, the child must be given the surname of its father. Also, a child of a marriage takes the father's surname. However, either parent may petition to have the name of a child changed.

A Kentucky Circuit Court has jurisdiction to enter a divorce decree when: 1) at the time the divorce action is commenced, the person filing has resided in this state for 180 days immediately prior to the filing of the position, 2) the marriage is irretrievably broken, and 3) to the extent that it has jurisdiction, the court has passed on custody and support, property disposition and maintenance rights. An action for divorce must be brought in the county where the wife resides, if she resides in Kentucky. If she does not reside in Kentucky, the divorce action must be brought in the Kentucky county where the husband resides.
Temporary orders affecting maintenance, custody, etc., may be granted pending a final separation or divorce decree.

Dividing Property
In making its division of the married couple's property, the court must first assign each spouse's property to him or her. Separate property of each marriage partner is:
1)all property acquired before marriage, plus any increase in its value that did not result from the efforts of the parties during marriage;
2)property acquired by gift, bequest, devise or descent;
3)property acquired in exchange for property in either of the above categories;
4)property acquired after a decree of legal separation; and
5)property excluded by a valid agreement of the parties.
After each married partner's property is assigned to them, the court then divides their marital property in equitable proportions. Marital property is all property acquired by either spouse after marriage excluding 1 through 5 above.
In dividing marital property, the court may not take fault of the separation into account. However, the court may consider the following factors:
1)contribution of each spouse, including the contribution of a spouse as a homemaker;
2)acquisition of the property;
3)duration of the marriage;
4)value of the property set apart to each spouse; and
5)economic circumstances of each spouse when the division is to become effective.

Maintenance Payments
Maintenance may be awarded to either marriage partner in a divorce proceedings; however, the award is not automatic. The court must find that the spouse for whom maintenance is sought: 1) lacks sufficient property to provide for his/her reasonable needs, and 2) is unable to support himself or herself through appropriate employment or is the custodian of a child whose condition and circumstances make it appropriate that the custodian not be required to work outside the home.
The amount and duration of maintenance payments are left to the discretion of the court. The court considers all relevant factors in awarding maintenance including: 1) financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, 2) time necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to obtain employment, 3) standards of living established during marriage, 4) the ability of the paying spouse to meet his or her own needs and those of the spouse seeking maintenance, and 5) fault for the marriage dissolution.

Child Custody
When a child's parents are separated or divorced, the court will award custody of the child in accordance with the best interest of the child. Both parents are given equal consideration. The courts are mandated by law to consider all relevant factors in custody cases which include 1) the wishes of the parents and child(ren) with his or her parents or anyone who may significantly affect the child's best interests, 3 ) the child(ren)'s adjustment to his environment, and 4) the health of the individuals involved. The court may grant joint custody to the child(ren)'s parents.
The non-custodial parent is entitled to reasonable visitation rights unless it would endanger the child.

Child Support
Either parent may be ordered to make reasonable and necessary child support payments. Though the court cannot consider marital misconduct in ordering support, they may consider the following factors: 1 ) financial resources of the child(ren), 2) custodial parent's financial resources, 3) standard of living the child(ren) would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, 4) physical and emotional condition of the child(ren), 5) educational needs, and 6) the financial resources and needs of the non-custodial parent. The provisions for child support are terminated by the child's emancipation, unless the parents agree otherwise.

Domestic Violence
A married woman who has been a resident of this state for 30 days may seek protective orders from the court if she or her child(ren) are abused by her spouse or others. Financial support and custody order may also be granted by the court. The court may also waive prepayment of court cost.
An abused spouse may have their abuser arrested without a warrant. Within 12 hours following the arrest, the abused person must sign a written statement, stating that an abuse occurred and the person who committed it. If you are abused or threatened with abuse, you should immediately contact your local law enforcement agency.

Insurance policies made payable to or for the benefit of a married woman is hers exclusive of claims by her husband's creditors. A married woman may also take out a policy on the life, health or disablement of her husband or children. When the woman pays the premiums on the policy, the proceeds are hers, free of claims by her husband or his creditors.
In fact, it is a good idea for the wife to maintain an insurance policy on her husband. This will provide protection for the wife in the event her husband dies or otherwise becomes disabled. Also, where the husband has an insurance policy with his wife named as beneficiary, the wife should make sure that her name is listed. If the husband's policy beneficiary is listed as merely "my wife," then the insurance proceeds would go to whomever is his wife at death, and not necessarily his current wife. A wife is also more assured of receiving the insurance proceeds if her appointment as beneficiary is irrevocable. When a wife is made a beneficiary in an irrevocable clause, she cannot be removed as beneficiary without her permission.
A divorced woman can obtain an insurance policy on her ex-husband where there is an "insurable interest." Examples of insurable interest in this case may include certain business interests or ties with the children born of their marriage. An insurance representative should be consulted about whether an "insurable interest" exists.
Incidence of ownership of an insurance policy should be carefully considered to avoid federal estate taxes.

Social Security
The Social Security Act is intended to provide for the "general welfare." The old-age survivors and disability insurance system, and hospital insurance benefits for the aged and disabled are largely financed out of taxes paid by employers, employees and the self-employed under the provisions of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act and the Self-Employed Contributions Act. It is extremely important that every employee and self-employed individual obtain a social security number. This number is used in keeping a record of individual earnings. Information on applying for a social security number may be obtained from your local social security office. This same number should be used throughout your lifetime. Even if you are not covered by social security, you may need a social security number for income tax purposes, application for supplemental security income, hospital or medical insurance or for identifying particular groups of persons. Social security numbers may also be used by government authorities in administering tax, public assistance, driver licensing or motor vehicle registration laws.
The amount of benefits payable, entitlement to social security benefits, and hospital insurance benefits, etc., are all determined by the amount of earnings credited to your social security account. Each social security account is identified by an individual social security number.
A woman's earnings for household production are not included in social security. Her assistance with farm or business operations are, in general, not included for payment into social security. At retirement, benefits are paid to the wife according to her reported earnings or one-half of the amount of her husband's earnings, whichever is the greatest. At the husband's death, the wife will receive the amount a husband has been receiving.
Other regulations apply to divorcees and widows with minor children.

Kentucky law specifically prohibits discrimination by most employers in employment practices. It is unlawful for most employers to: 1 ) not hire, or to discharge any person, or 2) otherwise to discriminate against an individual with respect to their employment, because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or age between 40 and 70.
The prohibition of discrimination "because of sex" includes discrimination because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Any woman affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions must be treated the same for all employment purposes, including the receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.
Women have the same right as men in applying and receiving credit. Women have a right to their own credit rating in their own name.
You should contact an attorney or the Human Rights Commission if discrimination is suspected.

Some Discrimination May Still Exist In Practice
Property rights are still a source of sex discrimination. For figuring federal estate and Kentucky inheritance taxes, proof of financial contributions (personal income, inheritance, gifts, etc.) to jointly held property is often more difficult for women. In most cases proof may not be necessary for men.
One problem that arises is the fact that, in most cases, a man can prove that he has paid for joint property while a woman, because her work in the home has not been given economic value, cannot. However, women who actually perform farm work or participate significantly in a business operation, such as a family grocery store, may be able to prove contribution. A wife may show contributions through gifts from her parents or from others.
Should a fulltime homemaker become disabled, she and her dependents have no right to social security, even though her services are lost to her family.
Laws governing maintenance (alimony) and child support are often less protective than they seem. Some studies show that a small percent of divorcees collect on either maintenance or child support, even when divorce occurs during the latter part of the earning years. At this period of the woman's life, her earning skills may not be marketable, or at least not for higher paying jobs. Because of this, women should be encouraged to develop marketable skills during their working years.

Equal Rights Amendment
The original version of the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress in 1923. However, it was not until 1972 that it was approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Before this amendment becomes law, it must be ratified by 3/4, or 38, of the states. Originally, ratification was to have taken place within seven (7) years of congressional approval. Three states short of ratification in 1978, Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982 for ratification.
The substance of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment reads as follows:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.
Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.