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Newspaper Article Concerning State of Missouri v. Bittick

[Hiram Julius Bittick & Bertha Bias]

This article is refers to State v. Bittick.

Library of Congress Newspapers on-line

The St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, Missouri)

1888-1919, May 31, 1903, Part II, Image 17



Associate City Counselor Delivers an Opinion in a Recent Case.


Supreme Court of Missouri Sustains Point That Written Agreement is Not Necessary for Legal Union.


            In a recent opinion by Associate City Counselor Woerner, the distinction between statutory and common law marriages in the State of Missouri is sharply indicated.  The latter are held to be legal and binding.

            The opinion was requested in connection with the validity of marriages performed by the Reverend George E. Bates of Maplewood, an ordained minister, but who is not a citizen of the United States.

            According to the Revised Statues, "marriages may be solemnized by any Judge of a court of record, or Justice of the Peace, or any licensed or ordained preacher of the gospel, who is a citizen of the United States."

            It is held by the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, however, that the statute requiring a marriage license, where the ceremony is performed by a person legally empowered to do so, in no manner affects the legality of a common law marriage.

            The effect of this opinion is far reaching, as it makes it possible for persons, who are under the legal marriage age, to enter into a binding and legally recognized contract of marriage.

            The Supreme Court has held that a marriage between "infants"--that is, the male being between the ages of 14 and 21 years and the female between the ages of 12 and 18 years, is valid without the consent of their parents, notwithstanding the statute which prohibits magistrates or ministers, under a penalty, from solemnizing such marriages.

            In regard to the validity of common law marriages the Associate City Counselor states in his opinion that "the Supreme Court has held that there are no words in the statutes of the State declaring a marriage not in conformity to the statutes to be for that reason null and void, and has held that in the absence of such ceremony a common law marriage is a good and valid marriage in the State of Missouri.


            "Marriage is defined as the civil status of one man and one woman, capable of contracting, united by contract and mutual consent, for life, for the discharge to each other and to the community, of the duties legally incumbent on those whose association is formed on the distinction of sex.

            "No formal ceremony or even a license is necessary, where competent parties, bona fide agree to take each other as husband and wife and live in public as such.

            "It is evident, however, that the method, procedure and formalities provided for by the statutes, while not essential to the validity of the marriage, are very desirable for observance by the parties, not only to set at rest all questions of law, but to serve as the official evidence universally recognized and easily obtainable when other evidence might be difficult to get, or looked on after a lapse of years with question by strangers."

            The case that is most generally cited in settling questions of validity in connection with common law marriages, was decided in the Supreme Court of Missouri, and is referred to by lawyers, as "State vs. Bittick, No. 103, Mo. 183."

            The Bittick case was a criminal procedure brought against Hiram     Bittick in the Callaway Circuit Court.  He was charged with taking away Bertha A. L. Bice, who was under 18 years of age, from her mother, who had the legal charge of her, for a criminal purpose.

            He was convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment in the Penitentiary.  An appeal was made to the Supreme Court, which reversed the case, declaring the common law marriage valid.

            The record of the case shows that Bittick was a widower with six children.  The girl, Bertha Rice (sic), worked for Bittick and they desired to get married, but the mother refusing to give her consent, they were unable to obtain a marriage license.


            F. L. Minor, one of the witnesses in the case, testified that "Bittick and Bertha were married at my house in the presence of more than twenty persons.  They married themselves.  There was no minister or other officer present.

            "They stood up in the parlor and mutually agreed and promised to marry each other.  They publicly made known themselves as man and wife.  They were known and recognized by the public as man and wife."

            In order to make the common law marriage more binding and furnish docummentary (sic) evidence, the contracting parties drew up and signed the following contract:

            "We, Hiram J. Bittick and Bertie A. L. Bice, enter into a solemn vow to live together so long as we may both live, to live gether (sic) as man and wife, in the presence of our God and the undersigned witnesses, at the residence of F. L. Minor in Cote Sans, Dessein Township, County of Callaway, State of Missouri."

            The contract is in no way essential to the validity of the common law marriage, as the spoken words, when delivered in the presence of witnesses, are all that is required to constitute a good and valid marriage in the State of Missouri.


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