What Are My Divorce Rights As a Wife?

Each state in the United States establishes its own laws and procedures when it comes to the dissolutions of marriages, otherwise known as divorce. If you’re considering divorce or know your husband is seeking a divorce, consult with an attorney to find out the specific laws and rights you have in your state. Avoid participating in “do-it-yourself” divorces or accepting the advice of your husband’s attorney. Protect your own rights with good legal counsel.

An attorney is talking to a man and woman. (Image: AndreyPopov/iStock/Getty Images)

Equal Property Rights

While laws may vary from state to state, most courts recognize that a husband and a wife have equal claims to all the property they jointly acquired during their marriage. As a wife, you may have a right to 50 percent of all this jointly acquired property.

Equal Custody Rights

Women no longer can assume that they will receive custody of children of a marriage. Men now have standing that is more equal in family courts. You will have the right to file for custody of your children, and the right to ask for certain custody features to accommodate your needs.

Excluded Property

Certain items of personal property that are used by you, but not by your husband, are usually excluded from property settlements. Items that include your jewelry, clothes or the car you drive most often will remain yours even after the divorce. Courts will sometimes require liquidation of luxury items of great value and the proceeds will then be divided between the two of you.

Liability for Debts

In most cases, liabilities for things that include bank loans, credit card balances and other debts are split equally between the husband and the wife, if they are equally able to pay their portion of the debts. Otherwise, if the wife has less income, the husband may be required to shoulder more, or sometimes all, of the existing debts of the marriage.


In a time when men were the breadwinners in a family and women were homemakers, men automatically had to pay their ex-wives a monthly support fee called alimony. This alimony obligation usually persisted so long as the ex-wife remained single. Today, alimony is no longer “automatic.” Many courts assume that a woman is able to work and provide for herself and alimony may be eliminated or reduced.

Child Support

The spouse who does not have full-time residential custody financially must support any children of the marriage, who are younger than the age of 18. Each state establishes the amount of child support an ex-spouse must pay. Child support is usually a percentage of pre-tax wages.

Your Name

Most states permit a woman to reassume her maiden name, if she likes, after a divorce. She must file papers for this to become legal. An ex-wife also has the choice to retain her married surname.

Right to Discovery

Because division of assets are a critical part of most divorce proceedings, it is important that all of the assets of the marriage be presented to the court so the assets can be divided appropriately. Some husbands will try to hide assets. You will have the right to use legal means, including court orders, to force your husband to bring all his assets to the table.

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