Many unmarried couples who live in Florida wonder whether they have any rights similar to that of married couples. Sometimes a couple may share a life together but choose not to marry. Couples who hold themselves out to the public as married, have joint accounts, have children, and share a meaningful life together rightfully want to understand whether they have any or all of the same rights as married couples.
This concept is referred to as “common law marriage” throughout our country. Common law marriage is a legal concept that applies to couples who are in a relationship that has the appearance of a marriage but has not been formally recognized by the state (such as by the issuance of a marriage certificate). A valid common law marriage typically confers both the benefits and obligations of a formal marriage.
There are a handful of states in the Unites States which recognize common law marriage; unfortunately, Florida is not one of them. Florida Statute §741.211 makes common law marriages void in Florida. The statute says that any common law marriage entered into after 1967 is invalid. Therefore, if you and your partner began a relationship after January 1, 1968, you cannot be legally married in Florida without a marriage license, regardless of how long you have been together. For example, you could have lived together and claimed each other as spouses since January 2, 1968, but the State of Florida will not recognize the marriage.
However, Florida law has some safeguards in place for couples who had a good faith belief that they were married. Florida law recognizes a doctrine of law called “putative marriage.” The putative spouse doctrine’s purpose is to protect the financial and property interests of a person who enters into a marriage believing in good faith that it is a valid marriage. The putative marriage doctrine is designed to allow the civil effects—rights, privileges, and benefits—which obtain in a legal marriage to flow to parties to a null marriage who had a good faith belief that their “marriage” was legal and valid. The doctrine developed as a cannon law palliative to protect those persons who went through a marriage ceremony in the good faith belief that the marriage was valid and proper, when it was actually null due some impediment.
The putative marriage doctrine will grant the putative spouse the legitimacy of the children of the marriage, the right to alimony (including alimony as distribution of marital assets), the right to claim workman’s compensation benefits, the right to a share of the community property, the right to inherit as a spouse in the succession, the right to insurance proceeds as a widow, and the right to sue for wrongful death of the other spouse.
If you are a couple in Florida who is seeking protections under the law such of that as a married couple, it is best to marry by a way that is recognized by the state, so you do not have any issues or confusion in the future. However, it is your choice to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of marriage and make an informed decision.