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Interspousal Immunity

Unity theory made the husband and the wife one legal entity; they could not make contracts or sue each other in court. This is called interspousal immunity. Although MWPAs gave married women separate standing in court, most MWPAs were silent on the question of interspousal immunity. When wives tried to bring suit against their husbands, often for assault, state courts’ rulings varied. Some state courts concluded that the MWPAs had eliminated the concept of unity entirely. These courts permitted the suits. Other state courts saw the MWPAs as specific remedies that otherwise left unity intact. These courts refused to allow civil suits between spouses in the absence of legislative action. The Supreme Court made such a ruling in 1910 in interpreting the MWPA for the District of Columbia: “We cannot but regard this case as another of many attempts which have failed to obtain by construction radical and far reaching changes in policy of the common law, not declared in terms of the legislation under consideration” (Thompson v. Thompson 1910, p. 619).