1 minute read

Prince v. Prince

An Informal Marriage

Sarah and George Prince were married in 1834. The ceremony took place in Portsmouth, England, on 2 March 1835, in the Jewish faith. A simple certificate confirmed the union. Within the year, the couple had a son. Shortly after the baby's birth, George began mistreating Sarah, finally abandoning her for America. There he began living with another woman. As an apothecary, a dealer in botanical medicines, George made from $15 to $20 each day. He lived in comfort, yet he did not contribute any money to his family, and left Sarah to support their son alone.

So Sarah followed him to South Carolina. There she asked the court for alimony, not only for herself, but for her son as well. The case came to trial in Charleston in January of 1841. George's attorney claimed that his client was poor, possessing no property from which to pay alimony. George denied that he had ever married Sarah, claiming the child was not his. He produced witnesses who said that under Hebrew law, the certificate signed by the couple was for a betrothal only. Sarah's side called witnesses who established the couple had lived together in marriage. Some had carried money from George to Sarah for her bed and board during the early days of their separation.

After listening to testimony about whether the Princes had a real marriage or not under Jewish law, the court decided that a ceremony had taken place. The marriage was valid, though informal. George had indeed deserted Sarah.

The only question remaining was whether George had the money to pay support. Since he was self-employed, he appeared to have no permanent or fixed income and no real property. The court commented, "If the condition in life of the parties is such that neither had property, and they were both to labor for subsistence, it is very questionable whether a case for alimony is presented."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Prince v. Prince - A Step Up, An Informal Marriage, The Court Investigates, Prenuptial Agreements