Many couples, even those who have been together for a long time, choose not to make their marriage legally official. However, some states have laws that recognize those couples as having a “common-law” marriage. A common-law marriage occurs when a couple has lived together, developing a habit or framework of marriage without ever obtaining a marriage license or going through with a formal ceremony.
Understanding that simple framework can make it much easier to determine whether you have legal standing regarding the division of property and custody matters when you have not legally married a partner. At the O’Mara Law Group, our family lawyers in Orlando and Lakeland can help you learn more about your legal rights if you have cohabitated with your partner without getting married in Florida.
Does Florida Recognize Common-Law Marriages?
According to Florida statute §741.211, Florida does not recognize any common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968. That means unmarried couples in Florida do not have legal spousal rights regardless of how long they have lived together.
Are You Legally Married after Living Together for Seven Years in Florida?
No, common-law marriages in Florida do not exist. Florida does not recognize couples as having entered into a marriage relationship or agreement after seven years—or any other length of time—of living together, even if the couple has otherwise developed the habits of and reputation as a married couple.
What if You Moved from Another State?
While Florida does not recognize common-law marriages initiated in the state, it does recognize the validity of any marriage entered into in another state, including common-law marriage relationships.
Thus, if you have a valid common-law marriage recognized by states like Colorado or Texas, which do recognize common-law marriage, Florida considers you legally married. Therefore, you may have the right to pursue some spousal rights, including health insurance or inheritance rights.
Unmarried Couples' Rights in Florida
As an unmarried couple, you do not have the same rights and protections married couples have in Florida. For many, the lack of those rights makes entering into a legal marriage more appealing.
Florida only considers unmarried couples joint property owners if both parties are officially named owners. That means if you own a house with a partner in Florida and are unmarried, the deed must list both names. The same goes for other types of property, including vehicles and businesses.
Furthermore, unmarried couples might not have rights to property—including the shared home— if one partner passes away and the other is not already named as an owner of the property or designated as a beneficiary in the deceased partner’s will. Instead, the court will distribute that property to the legal heirs of the deceased, including parents, children, or other relatives. Having a clear will helps to transfer property ownership to an unmarried partner more smoothly.
Unmarried partners typically cannot get coverage under each other’s insurance policies. This includes partners who may have lived together for a long time but have not formally entered into a marriage relationship. That lack of access to insurance coverage can lead many couples to pursue marriage even when they might otherwise have preferred not to.
Because unmarried partners have not entered into a legal agreement with one another, they typically do not have any financial responsibility to one another following a split. As a result, unmarried partners cannot collect alimony after they dissolve the relationship.
Alimony, also known as spousal support payments, helps provide a lower-earning spouse with a source of income immediately following a split or division. Generally, it serves as a way to help a lower-earning spouse who has supported the family throughout the marriage get back on their feet. However, cohabitation relationships do not require alimony payments after the end of the relationship.
When unmarried couples have a child and live together, they typically do not need to pursue a child support arrangement. However, if the partners decide to split up, they will generally need to make arrangements for child support and child custody. The child support arrangement can depend on several factors, including the following:
Creating a legal record of child support and custody can help protect both parents’ rights following a split and promote the child’s best interests.
Does Florida Have Cohabitation Rights?
A cohabitation agreement creates a legal arrangement between two parties who want to live together but do not want to marry. Cohabitation agreements can establish a marriage-like agreement, including laying out terms to help with the purchase of a property.
A cohabitation agreement can also help couples who want to protect their personal property or make their partner legally responsible for making health care decisions if they become incapacitated. Cohabiting couples in Florida also do not automatically receive other rights, including rights that could protect the property after the death of one partner.
A History of Common-Law Marriage in Florida
Previously, Florida did allow common-law marriage but abolished the practice in 2016. Since Florida no longer recognizes common-law marriages, couples with common-law marriage agreements in the Sunshine State no longer have the same rights as married couples.
Changes to Florida Common-Law Marriage in 2016
As of 2016, Florida no longer legally recognizes common-law marriages that began after January 1, 1968. After that point, anyone who met the previous common-law marriage requirements no longer has a legally valid marriage in Florida unless they had established a valid common-law relationship in another state. Thus, cohabiting individuals who do not have a legal marriage relationship will not be required to pay alimony after the end of a relationship.
Without taking these steps, couples cannot make decisions for an incapacitated spouse, and they also cannot have formal divorce proceedings if they break up. These proceedings are important because a person may give up several rights if they choose to dissolve the relationship. For example, in a divorce, each spouse is entitled to a portion of any property that was acquired during the marriage under Florida’s equitable distribution statute. Without an official marriage, each partner in a common law marriage relinquishes these rights.
Additionally, if the couple has children together and they are not married, the father is not automatically assumed to be the biological parent. However, when the couple is married, the father is considered the biological parent of the child and there is no need to establish paternity, which can make issues such as timesharing and parental responsibility much clearer.
Understand Your Options with the Help of an Orlando or Lakeland Family Attorney
Whether you have moved from another state with a recognized common-law marriage or have lived with your partner for a long time, the O’Mara Law Group can answer your questions and provide the support you need to determine your next steps. We can help you with the following:
Since common-law marriage in Florida does not exist, you do not have to go through a complicated divorce process. However, a longstanding cohabitation arrangement can be just as difficult to dissolve as a marriage, especially if you share property or have a child together. Contact our Orlando family lawyers to learn more about your rights and options.