couple at home

Does Florida Recognize Common Law Marriages?

Current Legal Status of Common Law Marriage in Florida

Definition and Recognition of Common Law Marriage

Common law marriage, a term that often surfaces in discussions about marital rights, refers to a union where a couple lives together for a period and holds themselves out to friends, family, and the community as being married, but without ever going through a formal ceremony or obtaining a marriage license. In Florida, however, common law marriage holds a unique status. As of January 1, 1968, Florida no longer recognizes new common law marriages. This means that while couples may live together and share a life, the state does not afford them the legal rights and benefits of marriage without a legally recognized marriage certificate.

Changes in Florida's Marriage Laws

Florida's shift away from recognizing common law marriage did not invalidate existing common law marriages established before 1968. Those are still recognized by the state. However, for any couple cohabitating after that date, the state offers no legal recognition of their union as a marriage. This change underscores the importance for couples to understand their legal status and the potential need for formalizing their relationship through marriage or other legal means to ensure protection under the law.

Legal Implications for Unmarried Couples in Florida

Cohabitation Rights and Protections

Unmarried couples living together in Florida may find themselves in a gray area when it comes to legal protections. While they do not enjoy the same rights as married couples, there are certain protections available. For instance, cohabitating partners may enter into contracts, such as leases or purchase agreements, which are legally binding. However, without the legal framework of marriage, they often lack the automatic rights to property, inheritance, or decision-making in the event of a partner's incapacity or death. Understanding these limitations is crucial for couples to plan accordingly and seek legal instruments that can provide additional protections.

Property Rights and Division

For unmarried couples in Florida, the division of property acquired during the relationship can become complex, as the state's laws on marital property do not apply. Without the presumption of equal ownership that marriage provides, each partner may only have legal claims to property titled in their name. This can lead to disputes and require litigation to resolve. Therefore, it's essential for cohabitating couples to consider legal agreements that clearly outline the ownership and division of property, to avoid potential conflicts and ensure fairness for both parties should the relationship end.

Requirements for Valid Common Law Marriages from Other States

Full Faith and Credit Clause Application

While Florida does not allow the establishment of new common law marriages, it does recognize those validly formed in other states thanks to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. This clause requires states to respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings" of every other state. Therefore, if a couple has legally established a common law marriage in a state where it's recognized, Florida will honor that marriage and afford the couple the same rights as any other legally married couple within its jurisdiction.

Criteria for Recognition of Out-of-State Common Law Marriages

To have an out-of-state common law marriage recognized in Florida, the couple must meet specific criteria. They must provide evidence that they have cohabitated, intended to be married, and presented themselves as a married couple in a state where common law marriage is legally recognized. Additionally, they must demonstrate consistency in their marital status claims across various contexts, such as tax filings, insurance documents, and other official forms. The burden of proof lies with the couple to establish the validity of their union under the laws of the respective state where the common law marriage was formed.

Alternatives to Common Law Marriage in Florida

Domestic Partnership Agreements

For those seeking an alternative to common law marriage in Florida, domestic partnership agreements can be a viable option. These agreements allow couples to outline the terms of their relationship, including property division, financial support, and other responsibilities. Some Florida jurisdictions offer domestic partnership registries that confer certain rights, such as hospital visitation and healthcare decision-making. While not equivalent to marriage, these agreements and registries provide a framework for couples to formalize their relationship and secure some legal protections.

Legal Tools for Protecting Rights

Unmarried couples in Florida can utilize various legal tools to protect their rights and outline their wishes. These include cohabitation agreements, wills, durable powers of attorney, and healthcare surrogate designations. Cohabitation agreements can specify terms similar to a prenuptial agreement, detailing asset division and support arrangements. Wills and estate plans ensure property is distributed according to one's wishes after death, while powers of attorney and healthcare designations allow partners to make financial and medical decisions for each other if necessary. Seeking legal advice to create these documents is essential for protecting one's interests in a cohabitating relationship.

Common Misconceptions and Legal Myths

Myths About Common Law Marriage in Florida

There are many misconceptions about common law marriage in Florida, one of the most persistent being that living together for a certain number of years will automatically result in a common law marriage. This is simply not true; since 1968, no new common law marriages have been recognized in the state. Another myth is that common law spouses have the same rights as legally married couples, including during property division or inheritance matters. Without a legal marriage or other formal agreements in place, this is not the case, and partners may find themselves without legal recourse.

Clarifying Legal Cohabitation Misunderstandings

Another area of confusion lies in the rights of cohabitating couples. Some believe that the mere act of living together affords them certain legal protections similar to those of married couples. However, in Florida, cohabitation does not grant automatic rights to property, support, or inheritance. It's important for couples to understand that without taking proactive legal steps, they may be vulnerable in the event of separation or the death of a partner. Clear and legally binding agreements are key to safeguarding each partner's interests.

Schipani, Norman & McLain, P.A.

Understanding the intricacies of family law in Florida can be challenging, especially when it comes to the rights and protections of unmarried couples. At Schipani, Norman & McLain, P.A., located in the heart of Sarasota, FL, we specialize in providing comprehensive legal services that cater to the unique needs of each client. Whether you're seeking to establish a domestic partnership agreement or need guidance on how to protect your property rights, our experienced attorneys are here to help. We invite you to contact us to explore your options and ensure your legal standing is secure. For expert advice and representation that you can trust, reach out to our team and take the first step towards peace of mind in your relationship.