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The meaning of spouse and the difference between living together and marriage?

As specialist family solicitors, we’re often asked about spouse meaning. In this article, we’ll explain spouse meaning and discuss how your legal rights may differ depending on whether you are married or cohabiting.

We often refer to someone as a ‘spouse’ in our articles, so it’s important to understand spouse meaning.

When someone refers to a ‘spouse’, they are talking about either the husband or the wife in a married couple. The word ‘spouse’ can be used for both men and women.

So if you are married, your spouse is your husband or wife.

If you have a spouse, meaning that you are married, then you will generally speaking have more legal rights than an unmarried couple who are living together.


There is no such thing as a common-law spouse

When discussing spouse meaning, many people believe that there is a common-law version of marriage that it’s possible to acquire if a couple live together for a long period of time. Sometimes, people who are cohabiting are even referred to as ‘common-law partners’.

In legal terms, spouse meaning does not extend to people who live together and are not married. There is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife.

If you have a spouse, meaning that you are married, there is specific divorce law which deals with everything from the divorce process, to who can live in the family home.

There are no specific laws which deal with the separation of cohabiting (unmarried) couples. So if there are any issues, such as who has a right to the family home, resolving conflict can be complicated.

If you are not married and live together, it may be possible to formalise your arrangements with your partner by entering into a cohabitation agreement. This is a legal agreement which sets out your rights and obligations towards each other. Your solicitor should be able to advise you if this would be appropriate in your circumstances.



Divorce and separation

It is vital to understand spouse meaning when discussing divorce or separation.

If you want to end your marriage legally, you will need to go to court and get a divorce. You will also need to come to an arrangement with your spouse about how you will split your finances upon divorce. If you cannot reach an agreement about your financial settlement, you may need to go to court to ask a judge to decide for you.

Unmarried couples do not need to go to court to separate.


The meaning of Spouse – Summary

Understanding spouse meaning is crucial to make sure that you are aware of what rights you have if you separate from your partner.

If you have a spouse, meaning that you are married, your separation will be governed by divorce law. If you do not have a spouse, meaning that you are not married, there are no specific laws which deal with splitting up with your partner. However, other laws can come into play with regards to, for example, property ownership.

As always, whether or not you understand spouse meaning, you should seek independent legal advice specific to your circumstances if your relationship has broken down.


Other articles that may be of interest to you?

How long does a divorce take?

What is the divorce process?

When is decree absolute granted in a divorce?

Decree Nisi – What does this mean in a divorce?

What are the first steps to divorce?

Is a cheap divorce really possible?


How can our expert divorce solicitors help you

Our expert family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues relating to divorce, including:


Contact our expert divorce solicitors for advice

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email

Our expert family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: St Andrew House, The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

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21st February 2020

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