For centuries up until 1890, the law provided that on a man’s death, his land was left exclusively to his eldest son. The widow, if there was one, had a life interest in a third of the land. This was provided to enable her to support herself and children other than the eldest son. After this right of the widow, called the Right of Dower, was abolished in 1890 the widow (and other children) were left with no rights to enforce inheritance against the husband (and father). What made their plight worse was that, at that time, married women had only limited rights to separately own property. (There was an exception with married women from wealthy families where the woman may well have been the beneficiary of a settlement made by her family upon her marriage.)

It is in this context that legislation which enabled widows and children to bring claims to receive a share, or a larger share, of the husband’s estate can be seen as an emancipation of women. In New South Wales, that emancipation started 100 years ago this year. It was on 7 October 1915 that the Testators, Family Maintenance and Guardianship of Infants Act commenced. Since then, widows and children have been able to seek family provision (or if family provision has been made, greater family provision) from the man’s estate. Nowadays, rights to bring a family provision claim is not limited to widows and children. Even widowers can bring claims as can former spouses and many others, depending on their circumstances. Nevertheless, 7 October 2015 should still be regarded as a special day in giving women rights.

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