Hopkins v. Hopkins

Decision Date15 September 1934
Citation192 N.E. 145,287 Mass. 542
PartiesHOPKINS v. HOPKINS et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Appeal from Probate Court, Bristol County; Mayhew R. Hitch, Judge.

In the matter of the estate of George L. Hopkins, deceased. Proceedings on the petition of George W. Hopkins, administrator, against Gertrude L. Hopkins and others, relating to the administration and distribution of the estate. From decree rendered, two of the respondents, children of the intestate, appeal.

Affirmed.

F. J. Carney and W. J. Killion, both of Boston, for petitioner.

H. W. Radovsky and A. Swindells, both of Fall River, for respondents.

RUGG, Chief Justice.

The questions at issue relate to the administration and distribution of the estate of George L. Hopkins,deceased intestate, late of Somerset. The facts are agreed. So far as material they are these: The intestate was married in New York in 1873. Two children, the issue of that marriage, were born in that State, at present reside there and are respondents. Without being divorced, the intestate in 1888 left his wife and children, came to this Commonwealth where shortly afterwards he began living with Mary F. Sullivan and continued to live with her here until his death in 1931. Four children now surviving were born of this cohabitation, all before 1901. From the times of their respective births he recognized and acknowledged these as his children. In 1905, he and Mary F. Sullivan entered into a marriage contract with due legal ceremony in this Commonwealth. At that time she had no knowledge of his former marriage or that he had a wife and fully believed that she had a right to marry him. They lived together as husband and wife until in 1907 she learned for the first time of his wife and two children living in New York. She continued to live with him but without sexual intercourse until July 30, 1930, when his wife died. Both were informed of her death on that date. Thereafter they continued to live together as husband and wife in the full belief that they were married from the time of the death of the wife on July 30, 1930. No ceremony of marriage was entered into between them other than one in 1905.

The trial judge rightly ruled that the burden rested upon those asserting that they were entitled to share in the estate of the intestate to prove their contention.

Several requests for rulings were filed, all of which were denied except the one as to the burden of proof. In disposing of those requests the trial judge said with respect to the intestate and Mary F. Sullivan ‘It being agreed and I find that thereafter [that is after July 30, 1930, when the first wife died] they lived together in good faith’ and found and ruled that the four children born in Massachusetts are legitimate and entitled to share in the estate of the intestate. In response to a request for report of material facts under G. L. (Ter, Ed.) c. 215, § 11, the trial judge reported that no evidence was introduced but the petitions were heard upon an agreed statement of facts which he found to be true. He found also that Mary F. Hopkins, formerly Sullivan, was legally the widow of the intestate. Appeals by the two children born and resident in New York bring the cases here.

Practice upon probate appeals is the same as that upon appeals in equity so far as practicable and applicable. Tuells v. Flint, 283 Mass. 106, 108, 186 N. E. 222. It is the duty of this court to draw appropriate inferences from the agreed facts. They stand upon the same footing in this respect as a master's report or other documentary evidence. Harvey-Watts Co. v. Worcester Umbrella Co., 193 Mass. 138, 143, 78 N. E. 886;Forman v. Gadouas, 247 Mass. 207, 210, 211, 142 N. E. 87. See G. L. (Ter. Ed.) c. 231, §§ 126, 144.

The underlying question to be decided relates to the matrimonial status of the intestate and Mary F. Sullivan. The determination of that question depends upon the interpretation of G. L. (Ter. Ed.) c. 207, § 6 (identical with R. L. c. 151, § 6, in force in 1905). It is in these words: ‘If a person, during the lifetime of a husband or wife with whom the marriage is in force, enters into a subsequent marriage contract with due legal ceremony and the parties thereto live together thereafter as husband and wife, and such subsequent marriage contract was entered into by one of the parties in good faith, in the full belief that the former husband or wife was dead, that the former marriage had been annulled by a divorce, or without knowledge of such former marriage, they shall, after the impediment to their marriage has been removed by the death or divorce of the other party to the former marriage, if they continue to live together as husband and wife in good faith on the part of one of them, be held to have been legally married from and after the removal of such impediment, and the issue of such subsequent marriage shall be considered as the legitimate issue of both parents.’

It is plain that at their inception the relations of the intestate and Mary F. Sullivan were illegal. They began living together without any form of marriage and not on the faith of any ceremony, or in the belief that they were husband and wife. Their conduct was in utter disregard of the laws of the Commonwealth. Illegality tainted these relations quite apart from the fact that the intestate, unknown to Mary F. Sullivan, had a wife and children living in New York, although that fact would accentuate the illegality in some aspects. This cohabitation was without sanction in law or morals. After cohabitation of this character had continued about seventeen years, and after the birth of all their children, they entered into a marriage contract with due legal ceremony in the full belief on the part of Mary F. Sullivan that a legal marriage was thereby established. These circumstances do not prevent the application of section 6 to the marriage ceremony of 1905. That section contains no conditions concerning the previous habits, conduct, virtue or vice of the person who enters into such marriage contract. The only prerequisite is that it must be entered into in good faith. The terms of that section are broad enough to include a person situated as was this woman and to recognize that such as she may repent of past shortcomings and desire thereafter to lead a meritorious life in conformity to law and thereby come under its shelter. She was the mother of four children born out of wedlock. A lawful marriage would render those children the legitimate issue of both parents. She was ignorant of the previous marriage of the intestate. So far as concerns the ceremony of 1905 it falls within the terms of section 6.

Two years after that ceremony Mary F. Sullivan was informed of the earlier marriage of the intestate. She was then in a difficult position. She was the mother of four boys born out of wedlock, ranging in age from fifteen to eight years, of whom the intestate was the father. In some circumstances it would have been her duty to leave him. White v. White, 105 Mass. 325, 327,7 Am. Rep. 526. What she did was to continue to do her part in maintaining the family, living under the same roof, but without coition with the intestate. After the death of the first wife in 1930 until the death of the intestate in 1931, the two lived together as man and wife in the full belief that they were legally married. Whatever may be thought about the legality, the wisdom or the ethics of this conduct, the statute must be interpreted as framed. A closer analysis is necessary to determine its scope with reference to these particular facts. Specifically it is important to determine whether the part of the concluding clause of section 6, viz.: ‘if they continue to live together as husband and wife in good faith on the part of one of them’ applies only to the period subsequent to the removal of the impediment to their marriage or whether it applies to the entire period from the time of the ‘marriage contract with due legal ceremony.’ It is the general rule of statutory as well as grammatical construction that a modifying clause is confined to the last antecedent unless there is something in the subject matter or dominant purpose which requires a different interpretation. Cushing v. Worrick, 9 Gray, 382, 385 ;Clarke v. Treasurer & Receiver General, 226 Mass. 301, 303, 115 N. E. 416, L. R. A. 1917d, 800;In re Opinion of the Justices (Mass.) 191 N. E. 33. We think that this general rule governs the interpretation of this clause of section 6. This construction is confirmed by examination of section 6 as originally enacted in St. 1895, c. 427. In that form the several significant parts of the section are...

To continue reading

Request your trial
61 cases
  • Pitman v. Pitman
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1943
    ...Co. v. Worcester Umbrella Co., 193 Mass. 138, 78 N.E. 886;Sewall v. Elder, 279 Mass. 473, 181 N.E. 720;Hopkins v. Hopkins, 287 Mass. 542, 192 N.E. 145, 95 A.L.R. 1286;Berry v. Kyes, 304 Mass. 56, 22 N.E.2d 622;Veazie v. Staples, 309 Mass. 123, 33 N.E.2d 262. Pitman could not assign to his f......
  • United States v. Sacco
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • July 21, 1970
    ...void without a decree of divorce or other legal process." See Puzo v. Puzo, 1961, 342 Mass. 775, 173 N.E.2d 268. In Hopkins v. Hopkins, 1934, 287 Mass. 542, 192 N.E. 145, where the children of a bigamous union were seeking to inherit under an intestate statute from their father, the court "......
  • Globe Newspaper Co. v. Boston Retirement Bd.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • March 14, 1983
    ...431 N.E.2d 225 (1982), quoting Druzik v. Board of Health of Haverhill, 324 Mass. 129, 133, 85 N.E.2d 232 (1949). Hopkins v. Hopkins, 287 Mass. 542, 547, 192 N.E. 145 (1934). See G.L. c. 4, § 6. The use of a semicolon usually indicates that each clause is intended to be independent. Moulton ......
  • In re West
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court
    • January 28, 1943
    ...General, 226 Mass. 301, 115 N.E. 416, L.R.A. 1917D, 800;Opinion of the Justices, 286 Mass. 611, 191 N.E. 33;Hopkins v. Hopkins, 287 Mass. 542, 192 N.E. 145, 95 A.L.R. 1286;Kruger v. John Hancock Mutual Life Ins. Co., 298 Mass. 124, 10 N.E.2d 97, 112 A.L.R. 725. The construction contended fo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT