Cohabitation law in Florida

Living together before marriage - or instead of marriage - is an increasingly common choice for people across the country and in Florida.

Couples may say they are testing the relationship for compatibility before committing to marriage. Or that they feel they don't need a piece of paper to prove their commitment.

In either case, parties may think they are protected in the event of a split by laws that would classify their relationship as a "common law marriage."

Not in Florida.

At one time, common law marriage was valid in Florida and those who wished to divorce were obligated to go through formal divorce procedures rather than just breaking up and moving on. Couples who lived together for several years as husband and wife, including filing joint tax returns, using the same last name, and referring to each other as married, were considered to be legally married according to common law.

Today, there is no way to initiate a new common law marriage in Florida. Only common law marriages initiated in Florida before 1968 are recognized by the state. However, common law marriages recognized in other states will be recognized if the couple moves to Florida. Generally speaking, your marital status is determined by the state where your marriage took place. Other states will recognize common law marriage established in Florida prior to 1968 as well.

In Florida, a legally binding marriage is the best way to ensure spousal rights such as making medical decisions, inheriting one another's property, and formal - and fair - divorce proceedings if you ever split up. Unless you have specific legal documents stating your intentions, your significant other will have no legal rights over health or financial issues.

The Florida courts will be involved, however, in the child visitation and support, paternity and other legal issues that may arise if a cohabitating couple has children together. Pensacola divorce and family law attorney Mary McDaniel specializes in family law and issues involving children. Attorney Mary McDaniel can help you resolve paternity.