Florida, with its vast rural expanses, used to witness couples simply proposing, having a small ceremony, and cohabiting without officially registering their marriage. These relationships were known as common law marriages in Florida. Although common law marriages no longer exist in the state as they once did, they still retain some relevance.
The End of Future Common Law Marriages in Florida
In 2016, the Florida state legislature passed a law that stated, “Common-law marriages void.—No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, shall be valid, except that nothing contained in this section shall affect any marriage which, though otherwise defective, was entered into by the party asserting such marriage in good faith and in substantial compliance with this chapter.” Florida Stat. Sec. 741.211
Therefore, common law marriages formed after 1968 are no longer recognized, except for those entered into with good faith and substantial compliance before the cut-off date. As time passes, the number of these pre-1968 common law marriages naturally diminishes.
It’s important to note that anyone currently involved in a partnership without a formal marriage certificate after 1968 cannot expect the court or any other Florida governmental body to recognize their relationship as legally valid.
Now, one might wonder, “If we consciously chose not to follow the formalities and rules, can I use this as an excuse to avoid financial obligations such as alimony or dividing assets?”
The answer is no. The statute prohibiting common law marriage in Florida takes into consideration this possibility by stating, “nothing contained in this section shall affect any marriage which, though otherwise defective, was entered into by the party asserting such marriage in good faith and in substantial compliance with this chapter.” Florida Stat. Sec. 741.211
Hence, if your Florida marriage license was flawed but you genuinely tried to follow the correct procedure, common law marriage can still be deemed valid.
Some Common Law Marriages Still Hold Validity in Florida
Under certain circumstances, a common law marriage can be considered valid in Florida. These circumstances include:
- Individuals who have relocated to Florida
- Previous residents of a state that recognizes common law marriages
- Common law marriages formed according to the laws of the aforementioned state
If all these requirements are met, Florida recognizes these common law marriages as “validly created in a jurisdiction recognizing such marriages.” (Am. Airlines, Inc. v. Mejia, 766 So. 2d 305, 307 n. 5 (Fla. 4th Dist.Ct.App.2000))
For reference, the following states allowed common law marriages in 2019, which potentially could be recognized in Florida:
- New Hampshire
- South Carolina
- Washington, D.C. (though not a state, it has its own laws)
What Rights Do Unmarried Couples Have in Florida?
If you’ve read this far and discovered that you are not in a common law marriage in Florida, it’s crucial to understand your rights as an unmarried person in a long-term relationship.
In Florida, you cannot get divorced if you are not legally married. Furthermore, unlike some states that offer alimony for unmarried couples (known as “palimony”), Florida does not provide such support.
However, if an unmarried couple has a child who has resided in Florida for the past six months, they possess the same rights as a married couple regarding the child. The unmarried couple can establish a parenting plan, similar to a divorcing couple, which governs their relationship with the child. This plan can also address child support and other financial matters related to the child.
Regarding property, the rules for unmarried couples differ. Unmarried couples are treated as individuals or friends or business partners, depending on how they hold the property. In other words, the ownership of assets remains with the person in whose name or possession they are held.
If there is a need to divide jointly owned property of unmarried couples, it is necessary to pursue a “partition action,” which must take place in chancery courts rather than Florida’s domestic relations courts.
To determine whether you have a common law marriage in Florida, feel free to contact our Naples, Florida family law firm and avail yourself of a free consultation to learn more.