“Common law marriages” are marriages that some states recognize, even without a marriage license, if two people live together in a conjugal relationship for a long enough time.
Although Florida once recognized common law marriages, it no longer does so unless an exception applies (we’ll fill you in below). Surprisingly, cohabitation itself was against the law in Florida until 2016.
Exceptions to Florida’s Ban on Common Law Marriages
Following is a description of two exceptions that allow a couple residing in Florida to claim the rights incident to marriage.
Marriages Entered Into Before 1968
With respect to in-state marriages, Florida recognizes only common law marriages that were entered into in Florida prior to January 1, 1968. As you might suspect, very few such marriages still exist in Florida.
Out-of-State Common Law Marriages
Florida recognizes common law marriages that the couple entered into in a US state that recognizes common law marriage. The marriage must have been valid under the other state’s law before the couple moved out of state. Currently (as of July 2023), the following US states still recognize some form of common law marriage:
- New Hampshire,
- South Carolina,
- Texas, and
Common law marriage in Oklahoma and Rhode Island exist in a legal gray area defined by case law. Each of the few states that still recognize common law marriage imposes its own standards.
Common Law Divorce in Florida
If you are in a domestic common law marriage (entered into before 1968), you can divorce in Florida. If Florida recognizes your common law marriage only because you married in another state, you will have to return to that state to get a divorce – Florida has no procedure for out-of-state common law divorces.
Rights of Common Law Couples in Florida
Since common law marriages aren’t generally recognized in Florida, what rights do couples have and not have that are in a long-standing, unmarried relationship in the state?
“Palimony” (a term coined by the media) is a substitute for alimony, recognized in some states, that requires one partner to offer financial support to the other partner in the event of a breakup. Florida does not recognize any form of palimony.
Ownership of Titled and Untitled Property
“Titled property” is property for which there is a title or other legal document that lists an owner. Examples of titled property include real estate, automobiles, and business enterprises. Unmarried couples can jointly own titled property, but the title needs to reflect this joint ownership.
Be careful: if you are not listed as a joint owner of the property and the other owner dies, a court might award the property to the deceased owner’s legal beneficiaries, not necessarily to you. To avoid a nasty surprise, speak with a lawyer about drafting a will that clearly expresses your intentions.
Proving ownership of untitled property could get murky if ownership falls into dispute.
One party in a “common law” relationship cannot get health insurance coverage under the other party’s policy. This limitation can operate as a major lifestyle liability.
Courts typically impose many of the same child custody standards for separating common law couples that they do for divorcing married couples. The most important inoperative standard is the “best interests of the child.”
One separating common law partner might have to pay child support to the other. The “best interests of the child” standard prevails here as well, and marital status typically does not make a critical difference.
Talk to a Florida Family Lawyer for Help Understanding Your Rights
If you are concerned about your rights arising out of a conjugal relationship, you need to consult with a Florida family lawyer. The solution to whatever problem you have may not be at all obvious. You might be concerned about property division, child custody, or relocation, for example. An experienced Florida family lawyer can seek the best possible outcome for you.
Contact the Orlando Family Law Firm of Conti Moore Law Divorce Lawyers, PLLC for Help Today
Conti Moore Law Divorce Lawyers, PLLC
815 N Magnolia Ave Suite 100
Orlando, FL 32803