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In some cultures, particularly in the Anglophone West, wives often change their surnames to that of the husband upon getting married.
For some, this is a controversial practice, due to its tie to the historical doctrine of coverture and to the historically subordinated roles of wives.
Others argue that today this is merely a harmless tradition that should be accepted as a free choice.
Some jurisdictions consider this practice as discriminatory and contrary to women's rights, and have restricted or banned it; for example, since 1983, when Greece adopted a new marriage law which guaranteed gender equality between the spouses, Traditionally, and still in many cultures, the role of a wife was closely tied to that of a mother, by a strong expectation that a wife ought to bear children, while, conversely, an unmarried woman should not have a child out of wedlock.
In the case of divorce, terminology such as former-wife or ex-wife is often used.
With regard to annulment, such terms are not, strictly speaking, correct, because annulment, unlike divorce, is usually retroactive, meaning that an annulled marriage is considered to be invalid from the beginning almost as if it had never taken place.
A wife is a female partner in a continuing marital relationship. The term continues to be applied to a woman who has separated from her partner, and ceases to be applied to such a woman only when her marriage has come to an end, following a legally recognized divorce or the death of her spouse.
On the death of her partner, a wife is referred to as a widow, but not after she is divorced from her partner.
Historically, many societies have given sets of rights and obligations to husbands that have been very different from the sets of rights and obligations given to wives.
In some cultures, the termination of the status of wife made life itself meaningless, as in the case of those cultures that practiced sati, a funeral ritual within some Asian communities, in which a recently widowed woman committed suicide by fire, typically on the husband's funeral pyre.
The legal rights of a wife have been since the 19th century, and still are, in many jurisdictions subject to debate.
In the case of the death of the other spouse, the term used is widow.
The social status of such women varies by culture, but in some places, they may be subject to potentially harmful practices, such as widow inheritance or levirate marriage; or divorced women may be socially stigmatized.
Traditionally, and still in some parts of the world, the bride or her family bring her husband a dowry, or the husband or his family pay a bride price to the bride's family, or both are exchanged between the families; or the husband pays the wife a dower.