Definition of Spouse

(a) a single woman who has cohabited with a single man as if she were in law his wife for a period of not less than five years;

(b) a single man who has cohabited with a single woman as if he were in law her husband for a period of not less than five years, immediately preceding the institution of proceedings under this Act or the termination of cohabitation, as the case may be.

The terms "single woman" and "single man" used with reference to the definition of "spouse" include widow or widower, as the case may be, or a divorcee.

All spouses have certain rights, but they’re usually not enforceable without court intervention. Before the court can act, you must initiate a lawsuit against your husband. After you've filed a petition for divorce or for legal separation, a judge can enter orders to protect you and your interests. You can ask the court to order your husband to do something while your divorce is pending or to make him stop doing something.

Marriage Rights

Marriage laws vary some among states, but the following is a list of commonly-given rights by both federal and state law: the ability to file joint federal and state tax returns; open joint bank accounts; receive a “marriage rate” or “family rate” discount on life, health, car, and/or liability insurance; the right to sue third parties for wrongful death or loss of consortium of a spouse; the right to inherit a spouses property without going through probate; the right to receive a spouses state and federal benefits, such as social security, pensions, public assistance, disability, workers compensation, and unemployment; the right to make medical decisions on behalf of a disabled spouse; joint parenting rights; and legal status wit step children.

Marriage Obligations

There are certain obligations that come with marriage as well. Some of these obligations may not be contracted out of. For instance, many states have statutes that require a couple who enter a marriage to provide each other obligations of mutual respect. Another commonly codified obligation is the fiduciary duty owed to a spouse. A marriage is a confidential relationship, and therefore there is a duty to act in the highest good faith and fair dealing in any transaction between the spouses. For instance, you may not perpetrate a fraud on your spouse or unduly influence them into signing a contract. These are both examples of obligations that a spouse may not opt out of.

Spousal inheritance rights

The amount of the surviving spouse's legal right share depends on two factors:

1. whether or not there is a valid will
2. whether or not the deceased spouse has any children.

You are entitled to the whole estate if:

1. there is no will or the will is invalid, an
2. the deceased spouse has no children or grandchildren.

You are entitled to two-thirds of the estate if:

1. there is no valid will, and
2. the deceased spouse has children or grandchildren.

You are entitled to one-half of the estate if:

1. there is a valid will, and
2. the deceased spouse has no children or grandchildren.

You are entitled to one-third of the estate if:

1. there is a valid will, and
2. the deceased spouse has children or grandchildren.

If you are the surviving spouse, you must be informed of this right and should apply for your legal right share as soon as possible. You may require that the family home be given to you in satisfaction of your legal right share, even if the home was left to another person under the will. If the family home is worth more than the legal right share, you will normally have to pay the difference into the deceased's estate. 

However, in cases of hardship, you may apply to the court to have the dwelling house given to you either without paying the difference or by paying such sum as the court thinks reasonable.

Children's inheritance rights

Both marital and non-marital children have equal rights to inherit from their parents. However, non-marital children may have the additional burden of having to prove paternity if it is disputed. Children's inheritance rights may be affected by their deceased parent's marital status.

The children (minor and adult) are entitled to the entire estate divided equally between them if:

1. there is no will or the will is invalid, and
2. the deceased parent is not married or his/her spouse is already dead.

But the children are only entitled to one-third of the estate divided equally between them if:

1. there is no valid will or the will is invalid, and
2. the deceased parent is married and is survived by his/her spouse.

Children have no absolute right to inherit their parent's estate if the deceased parent has made a valid will. However, if a child considers that he/she has not been adequately provided for, he/she may make an application to court. The child need not be a minor or be dependent in order to use this procedure. The court has to decide if the parent has "failed in his moral duty to make proper provision for the child in accordance with his means". Each case is decided on its merits and the court looks at the situation from the point of view of a "prudent and just" parent. Anyone considering challenging a will on these grounds should get legal opinion before applying to the court.

The constitution has provided many rights to married women. Some of the key rights are:

1. Right to Streedhan - A wife has ownership rights to all her streedhan, that is the gifts and money given to her before and after marriage. The ownership rights to streedhan belong to the wife, even if it is placed in the custody of her husband or her in-laws.

2. Right to residence - A wife has the right to reside in the matrimonial household where her husband resides, irrespective of whether it is an ancestral house, a joint family house, a self-acquired house or a rented house.

3. Right to a committed relationship - A Hindu husband cannot have an affair or marry another girl unless he is legally divorced. A husband can be charged of adultery if he is in a relationship with another married woman. His wife also has the right to file for divorce on the grounds of his extra-marital relationship.

4. Right to live with dignity & self respect - A wife has the right to live her life with dignity and to have the same lifestyle that her husbands and in-laws have. She also has the right to be free of mental and physical torture.

5. Right to maintenance by husband - A wife is entitled to claim decent living standards & basic comforts of life by her husband as per his living standards.

6. Right to child maintenance - Husband and wife must provide for their minor child. If the wife is incapable of earning a living, the husband must provide financial support. If both the parents are financially incapable, then they can seek help from the grandparents to maintain the child. A minor child also has the right to seek partition in ancestral property.

Property rights of a wife in Islam

In the famous Shah Bano case, the Supreme Court had held that in case of a divorce, it is the responsibility of the husband to make reasonable and fair provision to maintain his former wife even after separation under Section 3 (1Ha) of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This period extends beyond iddat as the woman retains control over her goods and properties. 

Upon Divorce

Muslim woman : Violating Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution which guarantee equality before the law and no discrimination on the basis of gender, religion or caste, a Muslim woman can't do much if she has been divorced by her husband. Her husband is liable to maintain her during the iddat. In Danial Latifi vs Union of India, the SC has held that Section 3 of "Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act" entitles that maintenance can be granted beyond iddat period. It also said that a Muslim woman can seek maintenance from her ex-husband under Section 125 CrPC, till she remarries. But, the Shariat says that accepting or offering maintenance beyond Iddat period is haraam (illegitimate) as all relationship between man and woman cease after the end of iddat period.

If the divorced wife and minor child are unable to maintain themselves, the husband is liable to give them monthly maintenance.

As far as getting property is concerned, a Muslim woman is entitled to dower that she got from her husband at the time of marriage. If the husband wishes, he can give away anything to his wife but it's not binding on him.

Recently, upholding the rights of Muslim women, the Allahabad High Court had said: “Women cannot remain at the mercy of the patriarchal setup held under the clutches of sundry clerics having their own interpretation of the holy Quran. Personal laws of any community cannot claim supremacy over the rights granted to individuals by the Constitution," the court said.

Hindu woman : As far as the division of property goes, a Hindu woman is the joint co-owner of her husband's residential property even if the property is not in her name. Upon divorce, she is entitled to get the 50 per cent share in his residential estates. For the remaining, the quantum of the share varies from one case to another. As far as her streedhan (property she got at the time of marriage from either sides) is concerned, she is the absolute owner.

Christian woman : The Indian Divorce Act states that during the period when the divorce case is in the court, the husband has to give one-fifth of his salary for the maintenance of his wife. Later, the maintenance can be given either yearly or in the form of alimony. If a divorced Christian wife cannot support her in the post-divorce period, she can apply for alimony/maintenance in a civil court or high court and, the husband will be liable to pay her alimony such sum, as the court may order, till her lifetime under S.37 of the Indian Divorce Act, 1869.

Upon desertion

Muslim woman : A Muslim woman is entitled to maintenance from her husband. If her husband fails to give her maintenance, she can move court. The magistrate can ask her relatives to maintain her and if they can't do it then the Wakf board will have to maintain her till her children become financially independent.

Rights of the Wife Over the Husband : (MUSLIMS)

Islam grants a wife rights over her Muslim husband. Some of them are financial, others are not.

1. Mahr : The woman has the financial right to receive mahr, or bridal gift, from her husband.

2. Good Treatment : The Quran puts great emphasis on treating the wife well. "...And live with them in kindness..." (Quran 4:19). In addition to the Quran, the Prophet of Allah has also stressed, 'The most excellent of you is he who is best to his wife.' (Tirmidhi)

A Muslim husband must remember the advise of his beloved Prophet, "Fear Allah in regard to women. You were given them as a trust from Allah and by the word of Allah they have become lawful for you." (Muslim) Wife is a trust, neither a slave, nor a dog and must be treated as such.

3. Financial Maintenance : A wife has the right to financial maintenance, including food, clothing, and housing according to what the husband can afford. It is the husband's responsibility to work and support his wife.

4. Protection: A husband must protect his wife including physical and emotional well being.

Rights of the Husband over the Wife : (MUSLIMS)

1. Obedience : In Islam, a wife is required to obey her husband in matters that do not involve disobeying Allah. This concept is totally alien to many Westerners, so please understand it well. In the West, they call this 'control' and sometimes 'emotional abuse'. It is neither. Few important points must be kept in mind.

One, a wife must obey her husband in obedience to Allah. The Prophet said, 'If a woman offers her five daily prayers, fasts the month of Ramadan, guards her chastity and obeys her husband, it will be said to her on the Day of Judgment, "Enter through any gate of Paradise you wish."' (Ibn Hibban)

Two, wife obeying her husband is not like a slave obeying the master! She is a free woman, not a slave. What this means is that her husband can not abuse his authority over his wife and act as a tyrant. He must remember that he is the servant of Allah and will be questioned about how he treats his wife.

Third, a husband must conduct the affairs of his family with mutual consultation with his wife, but in the end, he is the decision-maker and he will be responsible in front of Allah for his decision. A wife should not object to his decision-making authority and recognize that just like every company has a CEO, the "family" is like a company and the husband is its CEO. Remember, the husband has to balance his authority with good treatment that is the wife's right over him.

2. Protecting the Honor & Dignity of the Husband : She must protect his wealth and children, among other things, in his house. The Prophet Muhammad said, "The wife is the guardian over the house of her husband and his children." (Saheeh Al-Bukhari, Saheeh Muslim) She is required to raise his children upon Islamic values.

3. Not Leaving the House Without the Husband's Permission : The Prophet said, "If the wife of any of you should seek permission to go to the mosque, do not prevent her."

(Muslim) This does not mean she has to take his permission every time before she leaves the house, asking, "Can I leave?" What this means is that she should not go some place he does not approve of. It will minimize conflict and keep happiness in the family. An exception is the mosque. She can go to the mosque without her husband's permission and approval.

4. Not Allowing Anyone to Enter His House Without His Permission : The Prophet said, "And your right over them is that they do not allow anyone whom you dislike to sit on your cushion."[Saheeh Muslim] Once again, what this means is not to let anyone in the house who the husband disapproves of to minimize conflict and maintain harmony.

5. Concealing Bedroom Secrets : Neither spouse should talk about their sex lives with friends and family members. It is considered inappropriate, indecent, and shameful. Both should respect each other's privacy in this regard.

Sexual intercourse is a right they both have on each other. Each spouse has a right to intercourse. Vaginal intercourse is prohibited during a woman's menstrual cycle and post-natal bleeding.

Hindu woman : Codified in the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956, a Hindu woman is entitled to maintenance if she does not remarry. The court considers a large number of factors before awarding the maintenance.

Christian woman : A deserted wife is entitled to maintenance from her husband, but his failure to provide the same can be ground for divorce. A Christian woman has to live separately for two years before she can seek a divorce.

Upon death of her husband

Muslim woman : In the event of the death of her husband, a widow gets the one-eighth share (when there are children) but gets one-fourth share (if there are no children). If there is more than one wife, the share may diminish to one-sixteenth.

Hindu woman : A Hindu woman is entitled to an equal share in her late husband's property along with her children and mother-in-law (Class I heirs). In 2008, the Supreme Court of India decided that a widow who remarries can keep the share of her dead husband's property.

Christian woman : As per the Indian Succession Act, 1925, a Christian widow is entitled to one-third share in her late husband's property. The remaining share goes to her children.

In the absence of children, the widow gets Rs 5,000 and half a share in the estate. Her share fluctuates with the presence or absence of lineal descendants. For instance, she gets rights over the entire property only in absence of distant kin of the deceased husband extending up to great-great uncle or great uncle's son, but a widowed daughter-in-law has no right in her father-in-law's property.


If your husband was the primary breadwinner during your marriage and you’re no longer living together, you may have a right to temporary or “pendente lite” financial support until your divorce is final. Pendente lite is a legal term that means the order is only good until the terms of your divorce decree take over. If a judge awards you temporary support, it does not necessary mean you’ll receive alimony beyond that point. However, it can help you make ends meet until then. You or your attorney can file a motion for pendente lite relief, asking for this.

Estate Planning Benefits

1. Inheriting a share of your spouse's estate. Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.

2. Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.

3. Obtaining priority if your spouse needs a conservator-that is, someone to make financial or medical decisions on your spouse's behalf.

Government Benefits

1. Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.

2. Receiving veterans' and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.

3. Receiving public assistance benefits.

Employment Benefits

1. Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse's employer.

2. Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.

3. Receiving wages, workers' compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.

4. Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse's close relatives dies.

Medical Benefits

1.Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.

2. Making medical decisions if your spouse becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.

Death Benefits

1. Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.

2. Making burial or other final arrangements.

Family Benefits

1. Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.

2. Applying for joint foster care rights.

3. Receiving a share of marital property if you divorce.

4. Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.

Housing Benefits

1. Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."

2. Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.

Consumer Benefits

1. Receiving family rates for health, homeowners', auto, and other types of insurance.

2. Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.

3. Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.

Other Legal Benefits and Protections

1. Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).

2. Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).

3. Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can't force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications made between you and your spouse during your marriage.


PG - 20122019

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