In the eyes of the law, a marriage is a civil contract in which two people agree to become spouses. Whenever two people get married, each gains certain rights and duties under the law. As of August 2010, same-sex marriage laws exist in a few states, though the legal status of these laws is subject to rapid change, so contact an attorney if you need specific advice about your rights and responsibilities as a spouse.
State laws require that husbands and wives support one another, meaning both spouses have the right to receive such support and the duty to provide it. For example, Montana Code Annotated section 40-2-102 states that both spouses have a duty to support each other with their property and labor as much as each is able. This includes both monetary and nonmonetary support, including any domestic support provided by a spouse as a homemaker. Also, Montana Code Annotated section 40-2-101 states that married couples enter into a contract with one another, such that each provides the other mutual respect and loyalty in addition to any support.
The duty to support your spouse can continue even after your marriage ends. This right is most often encountered in the form of alimony, sometimes called marital or spousal support. All states have laws that allow either party to pay the other marital support payments after the couple divorces.
For example, Florida Statutes 61.08 states that alimony can be awarded in any divorce case. The alimony can be made permanent, can be a lump sum or made in ongoing payments, and can be granted to either spouse regardless of sex.
Closely related to the duties and rights of support is the concept of spousal abandonment. Spousal abandonment comes when one spouse decides to leave the other and not provide the support to which the other spouse is entitled. Though not all states have spousal abandonment laws, those that do provide that an abandoned spouse gains certain rights. Namely, the abandoned spouse can refrain from providing any spousal support to the abandoning spouse.
For example, Montana Code Annotated section 40-2-104 provides that any abandoned spouse does not have to pay any support until the spouse offers to return. Other states, like Michigan, make abandonment a crime. Michigan Penal Code 750.161 states that any capable spouse who abandons a spouse and does not provide proper food, care, shelter and clothing is guilty of a felony.