Virginia women who dedicate their lives to running their homes often find themselves treated unfairly compared to their wage-earning spouses under many state laws, according to a report released yesterday.
The state's "cavalier mentality is very much geared to the protection of women," the report says, "but it has long regarded the notion of their equality as an insult.
The document, entitled "The Legal Status of the Homemaker in Virginia," is meant to state "in clear, readable English exactly how the law affects housewives," said Jill T. Rinehard, chairwoman of the Virginia International Women's Year Committee. Homemaker Committee of the Na [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Similar studies of the legal status of homemakers have been carried out in all 50 states and the District of Columbia under the direction of the [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCES] tional Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, which is funded by congressional appropriations.
Rinehart characterized the legal status of homemakers in Virginia as "unpredictable - a lot depends in great part on your economic status and on the kind of man you marry.
"Perhaps in no other state are women so flattered, deferred to, and pedestalized as in that deep-South outpost [Virginia] that calls itself the Old Dominion or, less modestly, the Cavalier Commonwealth," the report's introduction says.
The study then analyzes laws covering divorce, alimony, credit, debt liability, inheritance taxes and child support and catalogues instances of how these laws treat wage-earners (usually men) differently from homemakers (usually women).
For example, on the question of debt liability, the report states that "while a husband's property cannot be taken to pay his wife's debts, hers may be taken for his debts, because of the presumption that whatever she has, she received because of something he did. This remains the law in spite of the Virginia Equal Rights Amendment."
The author of the Virginia report, Richard Crouch, an Arlington attorney who specializes in family law, said yesterday that Virginia is one of nine states where courts do not have authority to divide marital property as part of a divorce settlement. This means that if there are disputes over the property, the homemaker is forced to hire a lawyer in order to initiate a separate "partition" suit, Crouch said.
Virginia's General Assembly has refused to give the state's courts such authority, despite recommendations to do so in 1974 and 1975 from the Virginia Advisory Legislative Council, the legislature's between-sessions study arm. Crouch said he believes the legislature is reluctant to grant such authority because it would increase the workload of the courts.
The report also says homemakers are at a disadvantage under the state inheritance laws. Current laws maintain that upon the death of a husband, a widow inherits half of their jointly held real estate and therefore must pay inheritance taxes on that half.
"This law ignores the economic value of the work that women do in their homes, work which, though unpaid, assists in the acquisition of the family's property," the report says.
According to women familiar with the workings of this Virginia law, wives who inherit large working farms after their husband's deaths are hit hardest by the inheritance regulations.
The document presented yesterday also hit at what it calls Virginia's "strong doctrone in favor of marital reconciliations." Crouch explained that "even when there is a signed separation agreement, if a husband makes a reconciliation effort and the wife refuses, the wife can be found at fault" in the eventual divorce.
Rinehart said yesterday that even if the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is eventually ratified, it "would not take care of these problems." The Charlottesville houswife, who is a member of the Virginia Women's Political Caucus, said women must put" pressure on the legislature to change the law, because they do need changing."
Rinehart said she thinks efforts by female delegates at the last General Assembly to effect changes in the legal status of homemakers were a beginning, but she said much more lobbying needs to be done.