The wife's marital status was laid down by Roman law. Initially she was under the tutelage of her spouse (cum manu), into whose keeping her estate passed. Should her husband die, his wife received a sum proportionally equal in value to that of her children. Under the Late Empire, the wife was no longer under her spouse's tutelage (sine manu), but belonged in law to the family of her father and had a share as of right in her father's estate. Thus her dowry was transferred to her spouse only for the duration of their marriage. She herself remained her father's heir, and after his death it was to her that the estate came.

In the reign of Augustus, the wife obtained still greater independence in the handling of her estate because of slackening of the tutelage. It is noteworthy, indeed, that she was completely released from it if she became the mother of three children. The emperor Claudius abolished blood tutelage entirely, and as a consequence the husband had no further legal power over his spouse, while being at the same time released from any obligation for her maintenance.

The result of the gradual slackening of the wife's tutelage and of the benevolent legal reforms as regarded her property was that, from the legal point of view, the institution of marriage became slacker and the divorce procedure easier. A declaration that one of the two spouses intended to dissolve the marraige was thus enough for the procedure to go forward. Indeed, in a case where the party seeking the divorce was the wife, she could leave her husband and have a large part of the estate revert to her. By contrast, in Augustus' reign the decision that the marriage was to be dissolved had to be made public, a fact which required witnesses.

It is worthy of mention that, via marriage, women enjoyed some degree of legal independence in Roman society. This independence was of course indisputably limited by other social conventions of the time, such as, for example, age difference between spouses, which encouraged the psychological dependence of the wife, who was normally the younger.