by Therese Ivers, JCL
Good St. Nick is credited with giving a poor family dowries for each of the daughters of the house so that the young women would not have to engage in the world’s oldest profession. Dowries have been around for ages. Even today, in certain societies, the custom of requiring a dowry from the bride’s family is still very much alive. Often, this translates in real life to a shunning of females (think sex- selective abortions or infanticide), and a fostering of boys. Girls impoverish the family, and boys enrich the family line. Thus, parents in those cultures prefer to have boys rather than girls. In one sense, the custom of requiring a dowry from the bride’s family is a harsh one. It prevents otherwise eligible women from becoming marriage due to familial poverty. Certainly, there are cases where the woman is really “sold”, thanks to the solid dowry she brings.
That all being said, I think it is time to revisit the notion of a dowry for first world countries where the divorce rates are over 50%. In the USA, women are free to marry whom they please. A dowry is not expected or demanded, and she can be as poor as a church mouse or as rich as Queen Elizabeth. The downside is that even if a woman is sincere, has all it takes for a successful, happy, healthy, and holy marriage on her part, there is no guarantee that that is the case on the part of the husband. And vice versa. Since over 50% of marriages end in divorce, and women and children are often impoverished by divorce for a variety of reasons, it seems that the notion of a dowry should be revisited. Why? Because some ex spouses are truly deadbeats. Many single parents are women. They often struggle to put food on the table, supervise the formation of their children, and hope that despite the absence of a father, the children will grow up well rounded or “well adjusted”. This is often the case even if they are paid alimony and child support.
The dowry, or “marriage settlements”, in olden times would provide the woman and future children guaranteed funds during her/their lifetimes. Thus, the woman was financially secure regardless of whether the husband died, gambled away the family fortune, divorced, or became impoverished. It was a trust and it was in a very real sense, like a prenuptial agreement. I would suggest that women thinking about getting married have a dowry. This doesn’t have to be the significant sum that would enable a family to live comfortably off the interest for the duration of their lives. Rather, it can be a sum that would allow the married woman to live without the financial support of a husband for a reasonable length of time – a year or two perhaps – should she be widowed, become divorced, or if she was a stay at home mom, have to switch to becoming a provider in the event her husband loses his job or becomes disabled. A dowry could be a lifesaver if a woman hesitates to leave an abusive man mainly for financial reasons. This dowry should be legally protected in such a manner that it can only be tapped into for the benefit of the woman and children (or the husband and children if the man wishes to have his own “dowry”). Does this mean that the bride or bridegroom intends to divorce? No. It is insurance, pure and simple, for what is not a rare occasion in today’s world.