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What is a Common Law Marriage?


Common law marriages are often spoken about and even joked about, even though few people know what they are, or whether Florida even recognizes them. While issues relating to common law marriages are not common, it’s good to know what they are and how and when they could affect you.

What is a Common Law Marriage?

A common law marriage is a marriage that is recognized as legal even though it has not been officially legalized by obtaining a marriage license or having a ceremony. The parties to the common law marriage have the same rights as parties that got married formally.

Only a few states recognize common law marriages. Contrary to popular belief, it takes more than just living together to have a common law marriage. In states that recognize common law marriages, generally, couples must show that:

  • They have lived together for the amount of time the state requires
  • They have held themselves out as being married to the public. This can include calling each other husband and wife, opening accounts in joint names, or the parties voluntarily adopting the same last name.
  • They are otherwise legally allowed to be married (for example, they are above the minimum legal age and aren’t already married to someone else)

Florida and Common Law Marriages

Florida does not recognize common law marriages. No matter what you do and no matter how long you live together, your partnership will not have the same rights as those that were formalized legally as marriages.

This may be a good thing depending on who you are. For example, if common law marriage is not recognized, a common law spouse’s right to his or her share of marital property is not applicable. So if you are a spouse that helped your spouse grow his or her business, you could lose out on the contributions you made towards the business because your marriage is not recognized and family laws won’t apply (you don’t even need to get legally divorced). If you are the spouse who owns the business, the opposite is true — you have some protections if no part of the business is legally owned by your spouse.

Preparing if Common Law Marriage Doesn’t Apply

Likewise, you should make sure that proper estate documents, like wills or health care directives are executed, as there will be no assumption that your partner automatically inherits anything or has a right to make decisions for you should you become debilitated.

Although Florida does not allow common law marriages, Florida does recognize common law marriages that were valid from other states. Couples that move to Florida that don’t think they are married could be considered married if they meet the requirements of the state they came from.

Remember that if you have children, custody and child support law does not care if you are married. Common law marriages have nothing to do with a party’s rights to visitation, or determinations of which parent will have more time with the children. Those determinations are treated similarly whether you are legally married or not.

Family law questions or concerns? Our Tampa family law attorneys at The Pawlowski//Mastrilli Law Group can help you handle problems involving divorce and custody.

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