In times past, women were considered little more than property owned by their husbands. What legal rights a woman had were confined to those allowed her by her husband. Today the law is quite different. While neither a husband nor a wife is granted superior legal rights, a wife has specific legal rights protected by a multitude of laws. While the specifics of what rights you have often differ based on what state you live in, your rights as a married woman are protected in all states.
Your rights as a married women cover a wide range of areas, ranging from property rights to tax rights and health care rights. According to the Government Accountability Office, getting married conveys at least 1,049 separate legal rights, benefits and allowances under federal laws alone. For example, as a married woman you have the right to enter into contracts that bind both you and your spouse, and can make health care decisions on behalf of your husband if he ever falls ill and is unable to make decisions on his own.
Your rights as a married woman begin even before you get married. You and your husband can choose to enter into a contract called a prenuptial agreement, or prenup, that outlines the terms of the marriage and deals with any eventual divorce or separation. Even if you don't use a prenup, you and your husband can enter into a postnuptial agreement that deals with the same issues. As long as these agreements do not violate the law or public policy, you can agree to any terms you like.
A wife's legal rights in marriage exist separately from any religious restrictions that may exist. The laws of marriage and divorce are in no way predicated upon your religious beliefs, the beliefs of your spouse or anyone else. For example, if your religious beliefs prevent you from seeking a divorce without the permission of clergy, this does not prevent you from seeking a divorce in a court of law. You are free to practice whatever religion you choose, but the tenants of your religion cannot limit your legal rights.
Some people mistakenly believe that married women have to get their husband to "agree to" a divorce or "sign divorce papers" before the courts can grant a divorce. This is not true. Marriages are civil contracts between two people and divorces are lawsuits where one party sues the other. You do not need anyone's permission to file a lawsuit, and your husband's refusal to accept that you want to file for divorce is no impediment to your right to do so.
Your rights are determined by a number of statutes, court cases and procedural requirements. These laws differ from state to state, and your rights can change depending on where you live. Because of this it is always advisable to contact an attorney if you need legal advice or have specific questions about your rights as a married woman.