Is Common-Law Marriage Legal in Florida? Find Out Now!

Florida does not recognize new common-law marriages established within the state after January 1, 1968. However, there are some exceptions and limited protections for unmarried couples who have cohabited and commingled assets. This article will provide a comprehensive yet accessible overview of the current legal status of common-law marriage in Florida. We’ll cover key topics like property rights, healthcare, child custody, and estate planning from the perspective of unmarried couples. Whether you are considering cohabitation or already living with an unmarried partner, this guide will help equip you to make informed choices. Our goal is to explain both your rights and limitations clearly, while offering actionable solutions to secure your future.

Florida’s Ban on Common-Law Marriage

Florida banned the establishment of new common-law marriages within the state in 1968. This law remains in effect today. Specifically:

  • Common-law marriages formed in Florida after January 1, 1968 are not legally recognized.
  • Unmarried couples in Florida have no automatic spousal rights, even after years of cohabitation and commingled finances.
  • Children, shared property, and joint expenses do not confer marital benefits under Florida law.

This represents a major change from the decades when Florida did recognize common-law marriage. Unmarried couples today face a very different legal landscape.

Consequences of Non-Recognition

The consequences of Florida’s ban on common-law marriage are extensive:

  • No legal right to assets or inheritance from an unmarried partner upon death or separation. Joint ownership of property must be formally documented.
  • No right to make medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. Healthcare providers may deny visitation access.
  • No ability to access a partner’s insurance, retirement benefits, or Social Security.
  • No standing for wrongful death lawsuit, workers compensation, or other claims available to legal spouses.
  • No right to alimony or division of shared assets if relationship ends. Support obligations determined separately.
  • Child custody, support, and visitation rights must be established legally if unmarried parents split.

In short, unmarried couples lack comprehensive legal protections and recognition. Responsibilities like child support may be mandated, but rights are limited without marriage.

Exceptions: Valid Common-Law Marriages from Other States

Florida may not allow new common-law marriages, but valid unions established before 1968 in other states are usually recognized. Two key exceptions exist:

  1. Common-law marriages legally formed in other states before 1968 retain validity in Florida. This only applies to states that recognized common-law marriage at the time. Critical rights like inheritance remain intact.
  2. Florida residents who entered into common-law marriages in other states prior to 1968 also retain marital rights. But the other state must have recognized common-law marriages when the union began.

“Common-law marriages established validly in other states before 1968 are typically grandfathered in Florida, with spousal rights intact.”

In essence, Florida grandfathered rights for already existing common-law marriages, even as it barred new ones. But documentation and proof is vital to exercising those rights today.

Exceptions: Valid Common-Law Marriages from Other States

Limited Legal Protections for Unmarried Couples

While unmarried couples in Florida lack spousal rights, some basic protections do exist. Key areas include:

Property Rights

  • Joint property ownership requires both partners are formally named on titles, deeds, accounts, etc.
  • Inheritance without a will is difficult since unmarried partners are not next of kin.
  • Cohabitation agreements can dictate property division but require ongoing legal advice.

Healthcare Decisions

  • Healthcare providers may deny unmarried partners access without clear advanced directives.
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare is essential for making decisions if incapacitated.

Financial Obligations

  • No right to alimony or asset division. Past contributions have no bearing.
  • Child support is determined based on state guidelines, income levels if unmarried parents separate.

Child Custody

  • Unmarried parents have no automatic joint custody rights.
  • Legal guidance is essential to establish parenting plans and custody agreements.

While better than nothing, these basic protections still leave major gaps compared to formal marriage. Comprehensive planning is essential.

Property Rights Issues for Unmarried Couples

Area Unmarried Couple Married Couple
Joint Property Ownership Both must be named on documents Automatic for assets acquired during marriage
Inheritance Not next-of-kin, unclear without will Right to portion of estate even without will
Home Ownership Both must be on mortgage and deed Home is joint asset if acquired during marriage
Bank Accounts Joint accounts require both names Joint accounts assumed during marriage

Alternatives to Common-Law Marriage

Unmarried couples do have some options to secure legal protections short of actual marriage:

  • Domestic partnership registries – Some Florida counties and cities offer domestic partnership registration. This creates a formal record but limited legal rights. Benefits like hospital visitation may be facilitated.
  • Cohabitation agreement – A contractual agreement can lay out financial obligations, property division, inheritance plans, etc. It requires extensive legal guidance and may still be challenged.
  • Designated beneficiary – Florida’s designated beneficiary law allows residents to name a beneficiary for certain rights like inheritance and burial decisions.
  • Reciprocal beneficiary – Available in localities like Broward County, this registration grants limited legal rights to unmarried couples regarding healthcare, parental rights, and end-of-life decisions.

However, these options still fall short of full legal marriage. The best solution depends on your specific circumstances and concerns. None can replicate all the protections of formal matrimony.

Essential Estate Planning for Unmarried Couples

Estate planning is absolutely essential for unmarried couples in Florida due to limited default protections. Critical steps include:

  • Creating a will to dictate inheritance of assets and avoid disputes among relatives.
  • Using a living trust to retain control of property distribution. This avoids the lengthy probate process.
  • Appointing your partner as durable power of attorney for healthcare and finances in case of incapacitation.
  • Completing advanced healthcare directives so your partner can make medical decisions on your behalf.
  • Formally granting your partner medical visitation authorization to prevent denial by healthcare facilities.
  • Designating your partner as the beneficiary on financial accounts, pensions, and insurance policies.

Estate planning guarantees your wishes are honored. It requires coordination across documents and likely legal guidance. But it offers essential protection given Florida’s lack of spousal rights for unmarried couples. Don’t wait to take action.

Seeking Legal Counsel

Given the complexities unmarried couples face, professional legal help is highly advisable:

  • Family lawyers can assist with parenting plans for unmarried parents, child support guidelines, domestic partnership agreements, and other relationship issues.
  • Estate planning attorneys can ensure your wishes regarding property, healthcare, inheritance, and end-of-life decisions are legally sound.
  • Mediators may be able to resolve disputes amicably through methods like collaborative law.
  • Tax Accountants can provide guidance on how to file taxes for unmarried couples. Certain benefits like IRA contributions are not available.

While not mandatory, legal counsel helps avoid pitfalls and ensures critical issues like inheritance wishes or child custody plans are accurately executed. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to legal matters.

Professional Help for Unmarried Couples

Type of Lawyer How They Can Help
Family Lawyer Create parenting plan, formalize child support, draft partnership agreement
Estate Planning Attorney Prepare will, living trust, financial/healthcare powers of attorney
Mediator Resolve disputes amicably through methods like collaborative law
Tax Accountant Explain how to optimize taxes for unmarried couples


Cohabitating with an unmarried partner in Florida is fraught with legal uncertainties. While marriage represents the surest path to spousal rights, alternatives like partnership agreements or estate planning offer some protection. Still, unmarried couples face an uphill battle getting recognition and benefits automatically granted to married spouses.

If you are contemplating cohabitation, carefully consider these risks in advance. Consult attorneys to enact documents like wills and advance directives. Research options like domestic partnership registration based on your locality. Take proactive steps to prevent undesirable outcomes in areas like inheritance disputes or child custody battles.

While times and attitudes may be changing, Florida statutory law still does not equate unmarried couples with married ones. Make choices with your eyes wide open, seek supportive professionals, and take actions to formalize your wishes. Only then can you enter into domestic partnerships cognizant of both the freedoms and limitations.