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Common-law Marriage in Florida

Partners can’t enter common-law marriages in Florida. In fact, any common-law marriages established in Florida after January 1, 1968, aren’t valid. 

If you’ve entered a legal common-law marriage in another state, it’s recognized in Florida. But the key word is 'legal'. You must follow the rules of that state to establish your union before you can expect Florida officials to recognize your marriage. 

Suggested: Florida Divorce Process

Does Florida create common-law marriages?

A common-law marriage is a legal union between two people who didn’t purchase a license or participate in a formal ceremony. People can’t enter these relationships legally within the state of Florida. 

In 2016, Florida officially declared common-law marriages null and void. People who didn’t go through an official ceremony within the state supported by the proper documents weren’t considered married. Only common-law marriages entered before January 1, 1968, were legally united. 

A typical marriage in Florida follows these steps:

  • Show proof of eligibility. Two parties provide documents demonstrating that they live within the state and are old enough to marry. 
  • Take a course. They participate in a four-hour preparation course. 
  • Get the paperwork. The court issues a marriage license they can use on their wedding day. 
  • Participate in a ceremony. A Florida official (like a judge) witnesses the vows and declares the wedding legally valid. 
  • Present the final documents. The new family provides a valid certificate of completion to the courts. 

Florida partners who have lived together for decades may resist these rules. Completing all of these steps can be daunting. But it is the only legal pathway to a formal union recognized by the courts. There’s no other way to complete this step in Florida. 

Does Florida recognize common-law marriages from other states?

If you’ve entered a legal common-law marriage in another state, it’s recognized in Florida. But it’s critical that you followed that state’s law. 

Florida statutes say that marriages entered legally in other states are legal in the Sunshine State. But the union must stem from that state’s laws. Typically, that means you can’t just say you’re “common-law married” somewhere else and expect to be treated as a legal Florida couple. You will need proof. 

Every state has different rules and regulations regarding marriage. Before you assume your union will be valid in Florida, make sure it’s valid where you live now. For additional protection, track down any paperwork your state issued (like a certificate) that validates your common-law arrangement. 

Unmarried people and assets in Florida

Let’s say you’ve set up a household with someone in Florida, and you didn’t formalize your relationship through marriage. In the eyes of the legal system, you’re a single person. 

If you choose to split up, untangling your estate can be tricky. You would need to negotiate arrangements about the following items:

Finances

Since you’re unmarried, you would likely have separate checking and savings accounts. When you split, you keep yours, and your partner does the same. 

If you’ve listed your partner as a beneficiary on a 401k or life insurance account, those arrangements remain the same until you change them. Since your union isn’t official, there’s no way to end it legally and sever your connections automatically. 

Spousal support 

Florida laws don’t recognize common-law marriages, so spousal support or alimony arrangements are almost impossible to draft legally. The courts don’t consider your union valid, so you have no grounds to ask the other party for money when you go your separate ways. 

Property 

Cars, boats, houses, and other property are owned by the person who is listed on their title or who holds the receipt. For example, if your partner bought the family car and is listed on all the formal paperwork, that person drives away in that asset after the break-up.

If you’re both listed on the documents, it’s messier. For example, if you both participated in the mortgage for the family home, you’d need to go to court to determine who will keep it. 

And since you’re not technically divorced, there could be tax consequences attached. The IRS may consider your arrangements something like a gift, and you could get taxed for them. 

Child custody 

Florida laws don’t require marriage to determine parental rights. If you and your partner have children together, the court will attempt to preserve your connection through regular visits. 

It’s common for people to mix up marriages and child custody rules. In Florida, these are completely separate statutes. You can work through the Florida courts to create the right arrangements for your children after your break-up.

Child support

Laws surrounding child support are different from those dictating marriage. If you share children with your partner, child support payments will be determined when you’re crafting child custody arrangements in the Florida courts. 

Read: The Truth about Common-Law Marriages

Common-law marriage myths 

Many people are confused about what common-law marriages are, how they work, and what people need to do to claim benefits. Here are three common myths we’ve heard about these arrangements:

Myth #1: All states have common-law marriages

Just a handful of states allow residents to enter common-law marriages. Those who do can ask people to complete paperwork, pay fees, and jump through the same hoops they’d use to get legally married. 

If you enter a common-law marriage in a state that allows it, your union will typically be recognized by all other states. But in some cases, you may be required to show proof of your union before you can claim married benefits. 

Myth #2: All people are in common-law marriages when they’ve been together for several years

Experts say most people believe they’re in common-law marriages after they’ve lived together for seven years. This isn’t true. 

In most states, you must take extra steps to demonstrate that you’re legally united and not just roommates. No states formally tie people together in common-law marriages when they’ve lived together for a long period.

Myth #3: Common-law marriages are easier to begin and end than standard marriages 

Some people avoid standard marriages because they’re worried about the time and expense associated with a traditional wedding. Know that your wedding can be as simple as signing documents in front of an appointed official. In some states (like Utah), this is easier than petitioning the court for a common-law union. 

Marriage also makes splitting up easier. You can rely on state law to help you split assets and debts equally. And, you don’t have to take extra steps to formalize questions about your children’s paternity. 

References

Common-law Marriage by State. (March 2020). National Conference of State Legislatures. 
741.211: common-law Marriages Void. The Florida Senate. 
How Do I Apply for a Marriage License? Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers. 
Florida Marriage Law. (March 2008). Attorney General State of Florida. 
Judicial Recognition of a Relationship as a Marriage. Utah State Courts. 
61.13: Support of Children, Parenting and Time Sharing, Powers of Court. Florida Legislature. 
No, You’re Not in a Common-Law Marriage After 7 Years Together. (September 2016). NPR.