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Suits for Criminal Conversation

The principle of patriarchal ownership of a wife’s services and progeny under common law extended special rights to a husband, allowing him to sue anyone who threatened or damaged his sexual property. Along with suits for loss of consortium were suits for criminal conversation. In these, a husband sued his wife’s lover in civil court for damages to his property. The two men would battle it out in court, contending over whether the adultery had occurred. The wife was neither a party to the suit, nor could she testify. Her reputation, access to her children, and her marriage itself could be taken away from her as a consequence of such a proceeding, and she had no right to speak for herself.