Magnetic fields play a crucial role at all stages of the formation of low-mass stars and planetary systems. In the final stages, in particular, they control the kinematics of in-falling gas from circumstellar discs, and the launching and collimation of spectacular outflows. The magnetic coupling with the disc is thought to influence the rotational evolution of the star, while magnetized stellar winds control the braking of more evolved stars and may influence the migration of planets. Magnetic reconnection events trigger energetic flares which irradiate circumstellar discs with high energy particles that influence the disc chemistry and set the initial conditions for planet formation. However, it is only in the past few years that the current generation of optical spectropolarimeters has allowed the magnetic fields of forming solar-like stars to be probed in unprecedented detail. In order to do justice to the recent extensive observational programs new theoretical models are being developed that incorporate magnetic fields with an observed degree of complexity. In this review we draw together disparate results from the classical electromagnetism, molecular physics/chemistry and the geophysics literature, and demonstrate how they can be adapted to construct models of the large scale magnetospheres of stars and planets. We conclude by examining how the incorporation of multipolar magnetic fields into new theoretical models will drive future progress in the field through the elucidation of several observational conundrums.