What Are The Rights & Responsibilities Of Spouses?

Spousal responsibilities are not solely restricted to supporting a spouse in sickness and in health. Rather marriage brings with it financial and legal aspects as well. Some of these aspects, known as  “marital rights” continue after the extinguishment of a marriage as well.  Whether such an end be through death or divorce.

Legal rights and Responsibilities of spouses: Marital Laws

Marital rights differ from state to state but generally state recognize the following joint ability to:

  1. open bank accounts
  2. file taxes
  3. receive family/spousal/couple rates on insurance policies
  4. ability to inherit spouse’s property upon death
  5. ability to sue for wrongful death
  6. ability to receive pension/workers compensation/disability benefits
  7. depending on the state, the right to:

½ of all martial property OR

Equitable share of all marital property

Legal rights and responsibilities of Spouses: State Laws On Marriage

States tend to divide up marital property in three different ways. The first is community property.  In community property states each spouse is entitled to their own separate property (separate property is property/assets they had before the marriage and that has been kept separate since the marriage) and ½ of all of the marital property. In equitable division of all property states all the property regardless if its separate or marital is divided equitably amongst the spouses. In equitable marital property states, each spouse is entitled to his or her separate property but the marital property is equitably divided.

Moreover, many states also have laws regarding misconduct. If your spouse is engaged in any sort of misconduct especially any of the misconduct that occurs on reality tv shows such as abuse, abandonment, misconduct, and of course adultery you would have right to a fault based divorce and may be able to obtain substantial alimony and property upon a divorce. Hopefully it never comes to that! Also, your spouse owes you and you owe them a fiduciary duty. That means they cannot lie to you about such things as their criminal history, financial situation, or previous marriages to fool you into marrying them. The courts will annul marriage based on fraud.

Also, under agency theory each spouse must support the other spouse, the actions of one spouse will bind the other spouse. So for example, if your husband or wife gets sued for beating up one of their co-workers but she has no funds in her separate account the co-worker may be able to sue you and go after your money instead.

Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Spouses: Divorce and Confidentiality

Finally, there are some unique privileges that protect spouses when legal proceedings occur. Under the Spousal Evidentiary Privilege Rule, a spouse cannot be compelled to testify against the other spouse in any criminal trial, unless the proceeding involves crimes against the other spouse, or their children, or relates to any other future crime, or for divorce litigation.  The only spouse that can waive this privilege is the spouse that is not being sued.  Under the Spousal Confidential Communications Rule, each spouse can also prevent the other spouse from disclosing a confidential communication made between him or her while married. As long as the communication was made in confidence and in reliance upon the intimacy of the marital relationship. This privilege survives divorce.  Both spouses hold this privilege, which means if one spouse wanted to testify against the other about some private conversation they had, the other spouse can prevent their significant other or former significant other from doing so. Of course, this is unless the court proceeding where the spouse would testify involves crimes against the other spouse, or the children or any other future crimes, or divorce litigation.

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