The provision which the law makes for the support of a widow during her lifetime out of income produced by the real estate owned by her husband during the marriage. This provision for the support of a widow is usually favored over the claims of her deceased husband's creditors.
An estate for life, which the law gives the widow in the third part of the lands and tenements, or hereditaments of which the husband was solely seised, at any time during the coverture, of an estate in fee or in tail, in possession, and to which estate in the lands and tenements, the issue, if any, of such widow might, by possibility, have inherited. This is dower at common law.
Besides this, in England there are three other species of dower now subsisting; namely, dower by custom, which is where a widow becomes entitled to a certain portion of her husband's lands in consequence of some local or particular custom, thus by the custom of gavelkind, the widow is entitled to a moiety of all the lands and tenements which her hushand held by that tenure.
Dower ad ostium ecclesiae, is when a man comes to the church door to be married, after troth plighted, endows his wife of a certain portion of his lands.
Dower ex assensu patris, was only a species of dower ad ostium ecclesice, made when the hushand's father was alive, and the son, with his consent expressly given, endowed his wife, at the church door, of a certain part of his father's lands.
There was another kind to which the abolition of military tenures has put an end.
Dower is barred in various ways; 1. By the adultery of the wife, unless it has been condoned. 2. By a jointure settled upon the wife. 3. By the wife joining her hushand in a conveyance of the estate. 4. By the hushand and wife levying a fine, or suffering a common recovery. 5. By a divorce a vinculo matrimonii. 6. By an acceptance, by the wife, of a collateral satisfaction, consisting of land, money, or other chattel interest, given instead of it by the hushand's will, and accepted after the hushand's death. In these cases she has a right to elect whether to take her dower or the bequest or devise.
In some of the United States, the estate which the wife takes in the lands of her deceased hushand, varies essentially from the right of dower at common law. In some of the states, she takes one-third of the profits, or in case of there being no children, one half. In others she takes the same right in fee when there are no lineal descendants; and in one she takes two-thirds in fee when there are no lineal ascendauts or descendants, or brother or sister of the whole or half blood.