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The rights and obligations of a husband regarding his spouse, others, and his status in the community and in law, vary between cultures and have varied over time.

In monogamous cultures, there may be only two parties to a marriage.

In such cases, it is not uncommon for a husband to be considered a stay-at-home father if the married couple have children.

The term husband refers to Middle English huseband, from Old English hūsbōnda, from Old Norse hūsbōndi (hūs, "house" bōndi, būandi, present participle of būa, "to dwell", so, etymologically, "a householder").

The civil marriage generally forces the wealthier spouse "breadwinner" to provide alimony to the former spouse, even after separation and also after a divorce (see also Law and divorce around the world).

The legal status of marriage allows each spouse to speak on the other's behalf when one is incapacitated (e.g., in a coma); a husband is also responsible for his wife's child(ren) in states where he is automatically assumed to be the biological father.

At the conclusion of a valid wedding, the marrying parties acquire the status of married person and, while the marriage persists, a man is called a husband.

In heterosexual marriages the woman is called a wife; in same-sex marriages between males, each male is called a husband; between females, each is called a wife.

In premodern times (ancient Roman, medieval, and early modern history), a husband was obliged to protect and support not only his wife and children, but servants and animals of his domain, and the father (as the "patron") was awarded with much authority, differing from that of his wife (in these cultures, no polygamy existed).

In contemporary secularized Western culture, the rights of the spouses have been made equal.

The dowry not only supported the establishment of a household, but also served as a condition that if the husband committed grave offenses upon his wife, he had to return the dowry to the wife or her family.

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