Cauley v. Lawson, 58 N.C. 132, 5 Jones Eq. 132 (1859)

Dec. 1859 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
58 N.C. 132, 5 Jones Eq. 132


An agreement between parties previously to, and in contemplation of, marriage, that neither, after the death of one of them, shall claim any thing that had belonged to the other before marriage, was Held sufficient in equity to exclude the woman from dower, a year’s provision and a distributive share.

Where an object is sought to be obtained by a bill,, and several grounds are set out to show the plaintiffs’ right to the relief sought, it was Held that the bill was not on that account multifarious.

(The case of Murphy v. Avery, 1 Dev. and Bat. 25, cited and distinguished from this.)

Cause removed from the Court of Equity of Lenoir.

The bill is filed by the distributees of David W. Lawson, against the defendant as his widow and administratrix.

The property consists of slaves and other effects to a large amount, and the plaintiffs claim that the whole of it is subject to distribution among them, dischargéd of any claim by her for a years’ provision and a distributive share; and it alleges two grounds upon which she is not entitled; the first is, that on the 11th of November, 1852, immediately preceding the marriage, riage, and in contemplation thereof, the defendant, then a widow, and the intestate entered into marriage stipulations under seal, in which it was mutually covenanted and agreed that on the death of either, each one was to resume the possession of the property he or she had originally owned, and was to take no interest whatever, and set up no claim to any in the property *133of the decedent. The particular words of the contract relied on to exclude the claim of the defendant, in this respect, is as follows: “and it is further agreed to, and by the above named parties, that the aforesaid Winifred Jones shall not claim, have power to hold, or retain any part or particle of the above property, any longer than the above named parties may live together, but in ease of the death of the said D. W. Lawson, deliver up the above property and effects to his children, as the said Lawson may direct”

Another ground'oh which the plaintiffs say that the estate should be divided among them exclusive of the marital claims of the defendant, is that she was never lawfully married to the intestate for that the person officiating at the ceremony, was not duly qualified to solemnise the rights of matrimony.

The defendant answered not varying the facts as set out in the bill. Replication. The main questions in the case are, whether the deed above set out is sufficient to exclude the defendant ñora, a claim for her years’ provision, for which she had filed a petition, and from a distributive share in her late husband’s personal estate, and whether the two objections to tíiase claims rendered the bill multifarious.

MeRae, for the plaintiffs.

J. IK Bryem, for the defendant.

Hamly, J.

The bill is filed by the next of kin and distrib-utees of David W, Lawson, against the widow who is the ad-ministratrix of the deceased, praying for an account of the intestate’s estate.

The principal difficulty presented by the pleadings, arises upon the construction of the instrument of writing under date of the 11th of ETovember, 1352, purporting to be an anti-nuptial agreement between the intestate, Lawson, and Winifred Jones — whether it be such a relinquishment of marriage rights to dower, distributive share, and years’ provision, as will be enforced in a court of Equity.

We think it is clearly so. The writing in question seems to *134be mutual covenants and agreements, not to prefer a claim to any portion of the other’s property, or demand any benefit therefrom, exeeptmgsueh enjoyment asthéy might jointly reap from it while they lived together. The covenants are mutual, and the one is a sufficient consideration to supporttbe other. Mrs. Jones covenants that she will not claim, hold or retails any part or particle of her husband’s property, any longer than they may live together, but, in ease of the death of the husband, will deliver the whole up to bis children, as he shall direct — save only such as he may devise or bequeath to her.

The covenants extend to every claim of every sort which the defendant can set up to the real or personal estate of her husband, as his widow. She is precluded, therefore, as we think, in this Court from dower, distributive share, or year’s provision in her husband’s estate.

The case of Murphy v. Avery, 1 Dev. and Bat. Rep. 25, is not in conflict with the opinion here expressed. That was a petition in a court of law for a years-’ provision, and the defense set up, was an ante-nuptial agreement similar to the one in this ease. It was there held that as the demand of the petitioner was a legal demand, and the covenants in the marriage settlement could not operate as a legal release, the petitioner was entitled to judgment. It is neither expressly, nor by implication, held that m Equity the agreement would not be upheld and enforced.

The hill seeks'an account and surrender of the entire estate, (not disposed of is a due course of administration,) free from the claims of the widow, and this demand is placed upon two* grounds: Eirst, the antenuptial agreement referred to, and .Secondly, the alleged fact that the parties were never lawfully married, and this is objected to as multilarionsness.

There are not two distinct independent objects of equity jurisdiction sought to be attained in the bill. The object is an account of the intestate’s estate according to certain principles, and the right to this account is placed upon two grounds, relinquishment and defective marriage. The grownds are not objects, of the bill, but are introduced merely by way of di*135recting attention to the reasons npon which the particular equity of complainants rests. The bill is not multifarious.— We think the complainants are entitled to an account of intestate’s estate according to the rights here declared.

Per Curiam, Decree for an account.