What are the Settlement Rules for Unmarried Couples and Fiance(e)s?

How do the rules differ between settlement for spouses and unmarried couples?

The standard rules for coming to join a spouse consist of a present and settled sponsor, that the parties have met, adequacy of maintenance and accommodation, intention to live together permanently and evidence of a ‘subsisting’marriage. Clearly these may not necessarily even be considered if the couple in question are not married, for whatever reason, as the law could refuse to ratify such a relationship. Nonetheless, there are also human rights issues involved in potentially denying family life to an applicant.

Between 1985 and October 2000, there were no stable provisions within the rules for unmarried couples; in this period they were considered only under concessions. Until April 2003, unmarried couples were required to show some legal obstacle to their marriage but this is no longer the case. Further, by changing the probationary period for married couples to two years the gap between spouse settlements and those of unmarried couples has closed even further. In case law from 1979, in terms of the right to family life under article 8, it was found that in relation to the status of children there should be no discrimination between married and unmarried parents.

What do unmarried couples need to demonstrate to entry clearance officers?

The following rules apply to both same sex couples and couples of different sex. They must show:

  • that any previous marriage or comparable relationship has broken down

  • that they have lived together for two years before applying for entry

  • that they are not so closely related that the law would prevent their marriage

  • requirements for married partners as above such as the present and settled sponsor; accommodation and maintenance.

To clarify, the definition of cohabitation does not include simply visiting but the period of living together does not need to be in just one country (indeed it is likely not to if one half of the couple is settled in the UK and the other overseas). The couple could have been living alternatively at each other’s separate homes; there is no necessity for a joint mortgage or ownership or property.

Concessions are made for short breaks (up to 6 months) within the two year period of cohabitation. Reasons for such a break could include work commitments or caring for a relative, for instance. The couple must then show, though, that the relationship continued throughout this ‘break’ period.

After they have lived together for a total of four years (two years before entry and a probationary period as with married couples), the partner who is the applicant would be able to gain immediate settlement, comparable to that of a spouse.

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For more information on:

  • What are the settlement rules for fiance(e)s? Is there a time frame set out by the Home Office for marriage to take place?
  • What happens if the marriage ceremony takes place after the fiancée application for entry but before the entry clearance officer’s decision?