What Is a Spouse? | Meaning of Spouse | Austin Kemp

The meaning of spouse

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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, as well as the difference between living together and marriage.

What is a spouse?

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.

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 is married.

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.

What is the difference between living together and marriage?

The main difference between living together and marriage is there are specific divorce laws to deal with issues that can arise when married couples separate. This means that things can be more complicated if cohabiting couples decide to separate.

Let’s look at this in more detail

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 lives 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 that deals with everything from the divorce process, to who can live in the family home.

There are no specific laws that 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 that 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.

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.

What is a spouse: what does it mean 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 that 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.

Divorce and separation with a spouse

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 and if you require spousal support. 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: a 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 that 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:

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