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STERRETT v. STERRETT. (12/01/60)

December 1, 1960

STERRETT, APPELLANT,
v.
STERRETT.



Appeal, No. 243, March T., 1960, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, April T., 1958, No. 2739, in equity, in case of William Sterrett v. Dorothy A. Sterrett. Decree affirmed.

COUNSEL

Abraham Gratz, for appellant.

Allen N. Brunwasser, for appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen, Bok and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 401 Pa. Page 584]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On May 1, 1939, William Sterrett and Dorothy Willis agreed to live together as a married couple. They went through a homemade ritual wherein Dorothy said to William: "I, Dorothy, take you Bill for my lawful wedded husband," and he replied to her in reciprocal language. From then on they lived together as husband and wife, they were so regarded in the community in which they made their home, and all went as well as a wedding bell, although it had never ceremonially rung in their behalf.

On July 22, 1952, they decided to supply this deficiency. They took out a marriage license in Washington County and were now civilly and ceremonially joined together in accordance with the procedure of formal law.

The law is now called upon to decide a question which has been raised by the plaintiff, namely: When did the marriage between William and Dorothy Sterrett really begin? When the marriage bells proclaimed them husband and wife on July 22, 1952, or when they declared, on May 1, 1939, each unto the other, that they were now married until death (or divorce) parted them? The answer to this question is of conclusive importance to this case because on February 23, 1946, they had come into possession of a property, the deed to which named the grantees as "William Sterrett and Dorothy A. Sterrett, his wife."

The plaintiff, who, despite the double marriage bond, has now left his wife, asks for partition of the real estate of February 1946. The defendant, who is living on the property, maintains that partition is not in order because, being Sterrett's wife at the time of

[ 401 Pa. Page 585]

    the conveyance, (on account of the common law relationship), her title in the property is one of estate by the entireties. If they were indeed married, in the eyes of the law, on May 1, 1939, Mrs. Sterrett's claim is well founded.

The common law and romantic concept that husband and wife were but one person has undergone considerable modification by legislation and modern decisions. Today, husband and wife are, for most purposes, regarded in law, as what they have always physically been, two separate human beings. The wife is entitled to her own separate earnings and she may own her own property. However, the change of the poetic concept of two-in-one has not affected the oneness of the property which they own together as husband and wife. That property remains indivisible and can only be conveyed by the consent of both parties. If one of the spouses incurs debts, their liquidation ...


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