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Law School Case Brief

Abbott v. Abbott - 67 Me. 304, 1877 Me. LEXIS 55


A wife, after being divorced from her husband, cannot sue him for an assault committed upon her during coverture. A divorce does not make a marriage void ab initio; it merely terminates the relation of husband and wife from the time of the divorce, and their future rights with regard to property are adjusted according to the decision of a court in each case. It is clear that the real substantial ground why a wife cannot sue her husband is not merely a difficulty in the procedure, but the general principle of the common law that husband and wife are one person. The objection is not the technical one of parties, but because, being one person, one cannot sue the other. 


Cynthia Abbott was married to Ransom Abbott. At the time of the filing of the case, the two were already divorced. During the time they were married, however, Cynthia alleged that Ramsom and other defendants forcibly carried her to an insane asylum. This incident was the subject of Cynthia’s present action. The theory upon which Cynthia sought the present action to be maintained was that coverture merely suspends and does not destroy the remedy of the wife against her husband.


Did the coverture merely suspend Cynthia’s remedy against her husband?




The Maine Supreme Court found that Cynthia could not maintain such a lawsuit against her husband. It is primarily because alleged tort of forcibly carrying Cynthia to an insane asylum was committed during their marriage. The error in Cynthia’s proposition that coverture merely suspends and does not destroy her remedy against her husband is the supposition that a cause of action or a right of action ever existed in such a case. There was not only no civil remedy but there was no civil right, during coverture, to be redressed at any time. There was, therefore, nothing to be suspended. The doctrine advocated by the Cynthia finds no support from any of the principles of the common law. According to the oldest authorities, the being of the wife became, by marriage, merged in the being of the husband. Their subsequent divorce did not change this with regard to torts that occurred during the marriage. Furthermore, the others that aided and assisted the husband could not be held liable. Because the husband and wife were considered to be one person, the husband was considered by law to be the plaintiff in the action. No action could have been sustained against the husband's codefendants in his name.

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