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What is a spouse?

‘What is a spouse’ is a question that we are regularly asked by people who come to us for help following the breakdown of their relationship. A rather archaic-sounding word, ‘spouse’ is now only really used by lawyers or on official documentation.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at exactly what is a spouse and find out why being a spouse – or not – could make a real difference to your break-up.


What is a spouse?

‘Spouse’ is a word used to describe a husband or a wife. Whereas the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are used to describe the male and female partner in a marriage respectively, ‘spouse’ can be used to describe both sexes.

When answering the question ‘what is a spouse’, it’s important to note that the word ‘spouse’ can only ever be used when a couple are married.

what is a spouse


What is a spouse: the difference between partner and spouse

If you are cohabiting with someone you are in a relationship with but are not married to, they could be referred to as your partner – but not your spouse.

A partner could also be a boyfriend or girlfriend you are in a relationship with, but not living with.

So what is a spouse? Your spouse can only be someone to whom you are married.


What is a spouse: is a girlfriend a spouse?

A girlfriend cannot be a spouse because a girlfriend is someone that you are not married to. The same goes for a boyfriend.


What is a spouse: is there such a thing as a common-law spouse?

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a common-law husband or wife.

In England and Wales, no matter how long you cohabit with an unmarried partner, you will not receive the same legal rights as a married couple. And you will not become spouses unless you marry.


What is a spouse: what it means if your relationship breaks down

If your relationship with your spouse breaks down, there are specific laws governing how to get a divorce and how to deal with your financial settlement.

If you and your unmarried partner break up, there are no specific laws which deal with how your assets should be divided, should there be a dispute. In this instance, various other, often highly-complex areas of law could come into play, making the outcome harder to predict.


What is a spouse: summary

What is a spouse? This word can only be used for people who are married. Even if you’ve been in a long-term relationship with your partner, if you’re not married, they cannot be referred to as a spouse. And more importantly, they will not become your spouse unless you get married.


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 with divorce

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 on divorce

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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28th February 2020

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