Husband and wife, 1951
Marriage of the Virgin, a Renaissance period painting depicting a marriage

A spouse is a significant other in a marriage. The word 'spouse' can only ever be used when a couple is married. A male spouse is called a husband while a female spouse is called a wife.


Further information: Coverture and Marital power

The legal status of a spouse, and the specific rights and obligations associated with that status, vary significantly among the jurisdictions of the world. These regulations are usually described in family law statutes. However, in many parts of the world, where civil marriage is not that prevalent, there is instead customary marriage, which is usually regulated informally by the community. In many parts of the world, spousal rights and obligations are related to the payment of bride price, dowry or dower. Historically, many societies have given sets of rights and obligations to male marital partners that have been very different from the sets of rights and obligations given to female marital partners. In particular, the control of marital property, inheritance rights, and the right to dictate the activities of children of the marriage, have typically been given to male marital partners. However, this practice was curtailed to a great deal in many countries in the twentieth century, and more modern statutes tend to define the rights and duties of a spouse without reference to gender.[1][2] Among the last European countries to establish full gender equality in marriage were Switzerland. In 1985, a referendum guaranteed women legal equality with men within marriage.[3][4] The new reforms came into force in January 1988.[5] Although married women in France obtained the right to work without their husbands' permission in 1965,[6] and the paternal authority of a man over his family was ended in 1970 (before that parental responsibilities belonged solely to the father who made all legal decisions concerning the children), it was only in 1985 that a legal reform abolished the stipulation that the husband had the sole power to administer the children's property.[7] in the 1980s. In various marriage laws around the world, however, the husband continues to have authority; for instance the Civil Code of Iran states at Article 1105: "In relations between husband and wife; the position of the head of the family is the exclusive right of the husband".[8]

Depending on jurisdiction, the refusal or inability of a spouse to perform the marital obligations may constitute a ground for divorce, legal separation or annulment. The latter two options are more prevalent in countries where the dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, some of which introduced divorce only recently (i.e. Italy in 1970, Portugal in 1975, Brazil in 1977, Spain in 1981, Argentina in 1987,[9] Paraguay in 1991,[10] Colombia in 1991,[10][11] Ireland in 1996, Chile in 2004[12] and Malta in 2011). In recent years, many Western countries have adopted no-fault divorce. In some parts of the world, the formal dissolution of a marriage is complicated by the payments and goods which have been exchanged between families (this is common where marriages are arranged). This often makes it difficult to leave a marriage, especially for the woman: in some parts of Africa, once the bride price has been paid, the wife is seen as belonging to the husband and his family; and if she wants to leave, the husband may demand back the bride price that he had paid to the girl's family. The girl's family often cannot or does not want to pay it back.[13][14][15]

Regardless of legislation, personal relations between spouses may also be influenced by local culture and religion.[16]

Minimum age

There is often a minimum legal marriageable age. The United Nations Population Fund stated the following:[17]

"In 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent or approval by a pertinent authority. However, in 146 countries, state or customary law allows girls younger than 18 to marry with the consent of parents or other authorities; in 52 countries, girls under age 15 can marry with parental consent. In contrast, 18 is the legal age for marriage without consent among males in 180 countries. Additionally, in 105 countries, boys can marry with the consent of a parent or a pertinent authority, and in 23 countries, boys under age 15 can marry with parental consent."


In Western countries, spouses sometimes choose not to have children. In some other parts of the world, there are greater expectations that heterosexual couples will procreate. In some cultures and religions, it is an obligation. In northern Ghana, for example, the payment of bride price signifies a woman's requirement to bear children, and women using birth control are at risks of threats and coercion.[18]

Choosing a spouse

There are many ways in which a spouse is chosen, which vary across the world, and include love marriage, arranged marriage, and forced marriage. The latter is in some jurisdictions a void marriage or a voidable marriage. Forcing someone to marry is also a criminal offense in some countries.[19]

See also


  1. ^ In 1983, legislation was passed guaranteeing equality between spouses, abolishing dowry, and ending legal discrimination against illegitimate children Demos, Vasilikie. (2007) “The Intersection of Gender, Class and Nationality and the Agency of Kytherian Greek Women.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. August 11.
  2. ^ In 1981, Spain abolished the requirement that married women must have their husbands’ permission to initiate judicial proceedings "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-24. Retrieved 2014-08-25.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ "Switzerland profile - Timeline". BBC News. May 22, 2018.
  4. ^ "The Long Way to Women's Right to Vote in Switzerland: a Chronology".
  5. ^ Shreir, Sally, ed. (1988). Women's Movements of the World : an international directory and reference guide. Longman Group UK. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-89774-508-6.
  6. ^ Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine[bare URL PDF]
  7. ^ "Los 7 mejores ejercicios para la TERAPIA DE PAREJA ¡Descúbrelos!". Terapia de Pareja Web.
  8. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-03-11. Retrieved 2017-10-23.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ "Divorce Is Now Legal in Argentina but, So Far, Few Couples Have Taken the Break". Los Angeles Times. 12 July 1987.
  10. ^ a b Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family Under Latin. American Dictatorships and Democracies, by Mala Htun, pp 102
  11. ^ note: divorce between 1976-1991 was allowed for non-Catholics
  12. ^ "Chile introduces right to divorce". BBC News. BBC. November 18, 2004. Retrieved 2013-11-01.
  13. ^ "Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations" (PDF). 2018-05-29.
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2015-03-11.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ Stange, Mary Zeiss, and Carol K. Oyster, Jane E. Sloan (2011). Encyclopedia of Women in Today's World, Volume 1. SAGE. p. 496. ISBN 9781412976855.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ "Marriage and Cultures:marriage and culture". Retrieved 2020-04-02.
  17. ^ United Nations Population Fund UNFPA (2012). "Marrying Too Young - End Child Marriage" (PDF).
  18. ^ Bawah, Ayaga Agula; Akweongo, Patricia; Simmons, Ruth; Phillips, James F. (1999). "Women's fears and men's anxieties: the impact of family planning on gender relations in Northern Ghana". Studies in Family Planning. Wiley on behalf of the Population Council. 30 (1): 54–66. doi:10.1111/j.1728-4465.1999.00054.x. hdl:2027.42/73927. PMID 10216896. Pdf.
  19. ^ "Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014".