Common Law Marriage

Florida Family Law Attorney

In some states, couples who live together for a period of years as husband and wife are considered to be married, even if they do not obtain a marriage certificate. Florida, however, does not recognize common law marriages in the state except under certain circumstances. If you are looking to relocate to Florida and you and your partner have a common law marriage, contacting an experienced family law attorney will ensure that you are able to have your marriage recognized by the state.

Requirements

In most cases, there are no absolute rules to determine whether or not a common law marriage exists, and the existence of such a legal union is highly dependent on the specific facts of each situation. However, in order to be considered a common law marriage, it is required that the couple at least:

  • Live together for a significant amount of time; and
  • Hold themselves out to the community as a married couple.

Usually, the second factor requires a showing that the couple filed joint tax returns, used the same last name, or made public declarations to their neighbors and coworkers of their marriage.

Current Law

Common law marriages are generally considered invalid in Florida, so there is no way to initiate a new common law marriage in the state. However, since common law marriages were legal until 1968, any common law marriages established before that time period are recognized as legal unions by the state.

Alternatively, if a couple was considered married according to the common law rules of another state, Florida will also recognize the marriage. In order to retain the status of a married couple after relocating to Florida, both common law partners must assert to a court that they were married. If one of the parties does not believe that the common law marriage was valid, the other partner must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the union was valid according to the laws of the state in which the relationship was formed. This usually requires the submission of a government document, such as a joint tax return, a sworn declaration from a government agency, or a court order recognizing a name change.

Legal Repercussions

Legal recognition of a common law marriage means that the couple is considered legally bound as though they had undergone a marriage ceremony. As a result, their rights and responsibilities to each other in regards to support and property ownership will be defined by the state in which they live. Thus, in order to dissolve a common law marriage, the partners must obtain a legal decree from a court granting a divorce.

Furthermore, the parties will be required to equitably divide their assets and establish a time-sharing schedule if there are children involved. Additionally, when one partner in a common law marriage passes away without a will, then the other partner can automatically inherit a portion of the property under Florida’s rules of intestate succession.

Divorces and estate matters are emotional and complicated enough when the couple had a traditional marriage. Making sure that your rights are defended when you had a common law marriage can make the situation even more difficult. If you have a common law marriage that was formed in Florida before 1968, or in a state that recognized the marriage as legal, and you are considering a divorce or are involved in the distribution of your spouse’s estate, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free consultation.