Material Matters

Birgit Dober

This chapter deals with marital property settlements in rural Lower Austria in the 1920s and 1930s. The source material consists of divorce proceedings of varying density and completeness that were heard before two district courts – Krems and Korneuburg. Contrary to long-held beliefs that bridal couples in the 19th and especially in the early 20th century did not conclude marriage contracts, the divorce files show that the conclusion of marriage contracts was not uncommon even in this period. If the bride and groom decided against the separation of property legally enshrined in the General Civil Law Code of 1811, they had to record the chosen form of community of property in the marriage contract.

The focus is on the divorce proceedings of four married couples who had regulated their property relations in “marriage pacts” in the run-up to the wedding. They serve as case studies to analyze what was at stake in the court property disputes and how the existing legal situation favored or disadvantaged the interests of the parties in the dispute. Complex family constellations, in which marital children and children brought into the marriage from previous unions often play a decisive role with their inheritance interests, often dynamized the dispute about access to resources even in the run-up to the divorce proceedings analyzed.

In the divorce negotiations, the distribution of premarital property played a role, but the contributions of the husband and wife to the increase or decrease of marital property during the marriage were also weighted. The focus is on social ideas of order as well as the strategic use of the variables of gender, age, and status by the actors and their lawyers in order to achieve a favorable outcome from the divorce proceedings.

Institut für Geschichte
ÖFOS 2012
601028 Geschlechtergeschichte
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