Michigan Abolishes Dower Rights
Article by Lindsay Cummings
On January 6, 2017, Governor Snyder signed into law the package of bills, SB 558 and SB 560, that abolish dower rights in the State of Michigan. These bills will not take effect for 90 days from the date signed by Governor Snyder.
As a general matter, dower rights have historically allowed a widow to use her deceased husband’s real property during her lifetime. The justification for these dower rights dates back to when a woman was unable to own property. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Obergefell v. Hodges and DeBoer v. Snyder, which held that all states must recognize marriage between same sex couples, the Michigan legislature recognized the need to clarify dower’s role in our present society. In many ways, Michigan’s dower rights were unique compared to other states. Michigan was the only state that exclusively applied dower rights to women married to men. The conflicts and inconsistencies for dower rights that were created by the mandated recognition of same sex marriage ultimately motivated the Michigan legislature to pass the package of bills to abolish dower rights.
The newly signed bills, SB 558 and SB 560, abolish a wife’s dower right in both statue and common law, and repeal sections of the Revised Judicature Act that pertain to dower. The bills also remove the requirement for a divorce judgment or separate maintenance to include a provision in lieu of dower. Finally, the bills do apply the right of dower to a surviving widow whose husband passed away prior to the effective date of the bills.
Although dower was rarely used as a practical matter, these bills will simplify the legal process for wives who do not appear on a deed or when a married man wishes to transfer property he solely owns.
If you have any questions about the change in law, please contact an attorney at our office.