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Maintenance as an offense

There is — ulp!! — just one week to go before the 44th annual conference of the National Genealogical Society begins in Sacramento, California.

Themed Our American Mosaic, this conference will draw speakers, exhibitors and attendees from all over — and is one of the first in-person events of the genealogical world since the pandemic began in 2020.

The Legal Genealogist will be there, giving four presentations: Las Leyes de California: Spanish Colonial Laws and the Records They Produced (both in person and Online at Home); Margaret’s Mother: Using DNA to Solve a Mystery (a BCG Skillbuilding session); What’s in a Name: Name Changes and the Law; and Linking Generations: Using Court and Land Records.

And, of course, that means this week and next will be … ahem … a little busy.

So… when time allows … snippets.

2022 snippet 6

Like this one, based on a reader question.

“I always thought maintenance was something good,” reader John wrote. “Like, you provided maintenance to a widow or orphan. But I came across a court record where someone was being charged with maintenance. How can maintenance be a bad thing?”

Good question.

And the answer is that maintenance can be good or bad. Because the word has two very different meanings in the law.

The good meaning, of course, is “Sustenance; support; assistance. The furnishing by one person to another, for his support, of the means of living, or food, clothing, shelter, etc., particularly where the legal relation of the parties is such that one is bound to support the other, as between father and child, or husband and wife.”1

But — oh yeah — there’s a whole ‘nother meaning that’s not good at all:

In criminal law. An unauthorized and officious interference in a suit in which the offender has no interest, to assist one of the parties to it, against the other, with money or advice to prosecute or defend the action. …

Maintenance is where one officiously intermeddles in a suit which in no way belongs to him. The term does not include all kinds of aid in the prosecution or defense of another’s cause. It does not extend to persons having an interest in the thing in controversy, nor to persons of kin or affinity to either party, nor to counsel or attorneys, for their acts are not officious, nor unlawful.2

In other words, it’s the “intermeddling of a stranger in a suit, for the purpose of stirring up strife and continuing litigation.”3

Bottom line: maintenance for support? Good. Maintenance for mischief? Bad.

Not to mention a fun kind of crime to research…

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “It’s a crime,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 16 May 2022 ).


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 742, “maintenance.”
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., citing Dorwin v. Smith, 35 Vt. 69 (1862).
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