Married Like Relationships

This page serves to help clarify the different types of relationship and how the British government views them (from a visa perspective).

Starting off, I need to clarify that the British government prides themselves as being open to the most common types of relationships. That means they are willing to acknowledge same sex relationships and unmarried dependency as legally akin to registered marriages (for visa purposes).

What is important to note is that the British government does not acknowledge relationships where partners (sponsors) have more than one married like dependent. For visa purposes, the British government only grants recognition for one married like partner (no more).

On the left hand side of this text, you will see a list of the different stages of relationships that applicants commonly find themselves in.

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As you click on each status, you will see a brief description of the relationship status together with common examples. Each status is then given a conclusion from an immigration perspective.

This perspective serves to help clarify what the British government is looking for (and to help identify cases that have a strong claim or not).

This stages of relationships answer the same question:

Is my relationship legally recognized for visa purposes?

This option often covers relationships in their early stages.

In the past, some clients have stated that “we don’t live together for religious reasons”. In these cases, after further evaluation, especially from an immigration perspective, we have discovered that these applicants (in this stage of relationship) still live with their parents.

We are not saying that all relationships follow this pattern. Obviously each relationship is different and sometimes clients have begun a relationship and are curious to see if there are any benefits available whilst still in this early dating stage.

What can be concluded here is that in order to qualify, applicants have to be able to evidence financial independence and that they have lived together in a married like environment (for a minimum of 2 years) in order to be granted a legally recognized relationship that is equivalent to a registered marriage.

Therefore, at this point in the relationship cycle, dating (but not living together) is not legally recognized. Applicants are encouraged to either move in together or consider registering a marriage if they are looking to get their relationship to have legal recognition.

This stage of a relationship is a lot better than the previous section (where applicants do not live together). It tells the British government that applicants are a lot more committed in their relationship.

At this stage, living together (as a relationship status on its own) is not sufficient to grant legal recognition.

Three further important aspects are taken into consideration. The first relates to the duration of cohabitation (ie. how long have the couple been living together for?). The second relates to financial independence (ie. who pays for the couples living costs?). The third aspect relates to personal independence (ie. does the couple live on their own or do they share premises with friends or family?).

For couples to have a claim to a legally recognized relationship, equivalent to a registered marriage, couples need to be able to evidence 2 years cohabitation (from the immediate 2 years prior to submission) together with evidence that they share financial responsibilities between themselves (and do not rely on family for financial aid) as well as evidence that they live on their own separate premises.

This stage of a relationship can either happen before or after the couple have lived together.

Please note that in immigration terms, our definition of “long distance” applies to couples that live in different countries. Therefore, if couples live in the same country but different provinces- for example, they would be defined as “dating but not living together” as opposed to “dating in a long distance relationship”.

In cases where couples have not lived together (yet) and they are committed to a long distance relationship (living in separate countries), their relationship has not legal recognition.

In cases where couples have previously lived together (for a minimum of 2 years) and overseas opportunities present themselves, those couples have a 6 month “window of opportunity”. When a couple live in separate countries for 6 months or more, their past cohabitation loses its legal recognition.

Therefore, from an immigration perspective, couples need to be able to evidence a minimum of 2 years independent cohabitation together with evidence that they have not spent more than a continuous 6 months living apart.

Often in these cases, applicants say “but we have visited each other every 3 months”. Unfortunately, the time spent visiting each other is not recognized as married like cohabitation. Therefore long distance relationships that visit each often is not legally recognized as a married like relationship.

Starting off, congratulations!

Being engaged is awesome.

From an immigration perspective though, just because a partner has asked for the applicants hand in marriage (for a life long commitment), it does not mean that the couple in question have any legal responsibility to one another (yet).

Continuing with the immigration perspective, applicants in this stage of their relationship looking for legal recognition, need to either live together for 2 years (independently) or they need to proceed further with their wedding plans and register a marriage.

It can be concluded that being engaged to marry (alone) is not legally recognized as a married like relationship. For visa purposes, applicants are considered to either have a married like relationship (legally recognized) or not. There is no in between stage (for visa purposes).

This stage caters for couples that live together and are engaged to marry.

The combination of living together and being engaged to marry (alone) is still not legally recognized as a married like relationship.

Three further important aspects are taken into consideration. The first relates to the duration of cohabitation (ie. how long have the couple been living together for?). The second relates to financial independence (ie. who pays for the couples living costs?). The third aspect relates to personal independence (ie. does the couple live on their own or do they share premises with friends or family?).

For couples to have a claim to a legally recognized relationship, equivalent to a registered marriage, couples need to be able to evidence 2 years cohabitation (from the immediate 2 years prior to submission) together with evidence that they share financial responsibilities between themselves (and do not rely on family for financial aid) as well as evidence that they live on their own separate premises.

It can be concluded that being engaged to marry does not have any legal impact in the relationship status.

This stage of a relationship, where couples are engaged to marry, can either happen before or after the couple have lived together.

Please note that in immigration terms, our definition of “long distance” applies to couples that live in different countries. Therefore, if couples live in the same country but different provinces- for example, they would be defined as “engaged but not living together” as opposed to “engaged in a long distance relationship”.

In cases where couples have not lived together (yet) and they are committed to a long distance relationship (living in separate countries), their relationship has not legal recognition.

In cases where couples have previously lived together (for a minimum of 2 years) and overseas opportunities present themselves, those couples have a 6 month “window of opportunity”. When a couple live in separate countries for 6 months or more, their past cohabitation loses its legal recognition.

Therefore, from an immigration perspective, couples need to be able to evidence a minimum of 2 years independent cohabitation together with evidence that they have not spent more than a continuous 6 months living apart.

Often in these cases, applicants say “but we have visited each other every 3 months”. Unfortunately, the time spent visiting each other is not recognized as married like cohabitation. Therefore long distance relationships that visit each often is not legally recognized as a married like relationship.

It can be concluded that being engaged to marry does not have any legal impact in the relationship status.

This option happens often in South Africa. Traditional marriages and ceremonies often take place.

The complication though, is that legally speaking (especially from an immigration perspective), there is no recorded evidence of a registered marriage. There are no legally binding contracts in place.

Therefore, applicants that have partaken in only a traditional marriage, are recommended to register their marriage with SA Home Affairs.

There are many marriage officers, who can help draw up marriage contracts. Those contracts then need to be signed and witnessed. Once all relevant parties are in agreement, the contract is registered with SA Home Affairs and legal recognition for the relationship in question will be granted.

This stage of a relationship can be described as a “default marriage status”.

Applicants in this scenario has gone through the various hurdles of dating, being engaged and now they had their wedding celebration and are living together.

The beauty of this stage of a relationship, when compared to unmarried dependency (through 2 years of cohabitation), is that applicants need not worry too much about financial independence or independent residence.

Theoretically, from an immigration perspective, as long as couples have registered a marriage, they have a legally recognized relationship.

In the immigration industry, we come across this stage of relationships often.

This often applies to couples that have recently married.

What is important to take into consideration at this stage of a relationship is that the British government automatically has ground to refuse a case if they have reason to believe that the marriage that has taken place is only for visa benefits.

Therefore, our standard practice in these cases is to help the applicant address the British governments concerns. It is pretty easy to do so from our perspective.

Factors such as duration of marriage, place of marriage and reason for marriage are taken into consideration.

If this applies to you, we encourage applicants to contact us so that we can further (assess and) assist.

At this stage, it is important to note that Move Up’s immigration definition of “long distance” relationship applies to couples that live in different countries.

Couples that live in the same country and are married fall under the definition of “married but not living together”.

In these cases, which we come by fairly often, we have witnessed that often the one partner pursues international work opportunity (for better pay) and the other partner remains behind for commitment reasons (children in school, elderly parent, social commitment etc).

We have successfully represented couples that have lived apart for more than 5 years.

In the above case, where couples have spent years living apart, we have helped present a case where the relationship has continued to be nurtured throughout. Often clients in this scenario would visit (as often as possible) – sometimes once a year (sometimes not).

Where the risk in this case lies, specifically in cases where the applicant has spent years living in separate countries, is that applicants have not entertained other relationships during this time.

This sort of cases need to be further evaluated by professionals, who can help clarify the feasibility in the case. Move Up has a team of experienced experts willing and able to help.

At this stage of a relationship, couples have legally dissolved their marriage (by registering a divorce) and they no longer live in the same household. However, in these cases, sometimes we find that constructive chemistry still lingers and couples want to know what their chances are of qualifying for a visa.

From an immigration perspective, couples in this situation do not have a legally recognized relationship.

If couples want to try and give the relationship another go, they either need to live together for another 2 years – after the date of registered divorce (to qualify as unmarried dependents) or they have to register another marriage.

There is hope though and Move Up can help in the visa application.

This applies to couples that previously were married and have since divorced. After the divorce was finalized, some couples miss the companionship and live together (like a married couple).

From an immigration perspective, couples are awarded legal recognition of a married like relationship when they have lived together for the immediate 2 years (or more).

We have witnessed that some clients just don’t like the idea of formal “marriage commitments” and prefer the “freedom” to live without contract in place.

We can conclude though that from an immigration perspective, subject to the type and duration of cohabitation the couple lives under, that they have a legally recognized relationship though.

This relationship status comes by now and then. Couples that were previously married, are now divorced and they live in separate countries.

Relationships sometimes can easily rekindle and it is understandable that couples can begin nurturing a loving relationship again. It could have to do with the idea that people want what they can’t have.

Here at Move Up, we don’t judge. We just provide visa solutions.

No longer having a registered marriage and no longer living in the same country means that couples in this position do not have a legally recognized relationship.

To get legal recognition for their relationship, couples need to consider either marrying again or returning to the country they previously lived together in (so that they can meet the 2 years cohabitation requirement).


This concludes our insight in terms of legal recognition of relationship status for visa purposes.

We have put together content to help address the different types of “UK spousal visas” available to South Africans as well as information about permitted family dependency.

Further to this, we have helpful content to address these frequent questions:

If you would like to find out more about your unique case, please contact us.