Does Florida Recognize Common Law Marriage?

You may have heard about common law marriages. Generally speaking, they are unions in which the couple has not been licensed for marriage by the state but have lived with one another for a certain period of time and have voluntary held one another out to others as being a married couple.

Prior to 1968, couples could enter into a common law marriage in Florida and have all the rights and responsibilities that come with a state-licensed marriage. However, with the passage of section 741.211 of the Florida Statutes, couples could no longer enter into common law marriages in Florida. The current iteration of section 741.211 reads as follows:

Common-law marriages void.—No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, shall be valid, except that nothing contained in this section shall affect any marriage which, though otherwise defective, was entered into by the party asserting such marriage in good faith and in substantial compliance with this chapter.

However, this statute does not abolish Florida’s recognition of all common law marriages.

First, if a couple had entered into a common law marriage in Florida prior to 1968, the common law marriage is still considered valid. Accordingly, each party still has the rights and responsibilities of husband and wife, and each party has the right to petition for divorce and ask for the same remedies (such as alimony and equitable division of property and debts) as marriages that have been licensed by the state.

Second, if a couple has lawfully entered into a common law marriage since 1968 in a jurisdiction that recognizes common law marriage, Florida will usually recognize that marriage. So, if a couple has entered into the common law marriage in Colorado or Israel, and those jurisdictions have provisions for common law marriage, Florida will generally respect those marriages. At the same time, Florida will also permit those parties to divorce.

The appellate court in Johnson v. Lincoln Square Properties, Inc., 571 So. 2d 541, 542-43 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990) gives the most succinct explanation of Florida’s view on common law marriages entered into in other jurisdictions:

Florida has always determined the validity of marriage in accordance with the laws of the place where the marriage occurred….[S]ection 741.211 is limited to marriages occurring in Florida and was never intended to affect persons lawfully married outside of Florida. If it were so, then the statute would have the effect of converting lawful marriages into adulterous relationships and bastardizing children from those relationships.

Keep in mind that, even though Florida may recognize a common law marriage entered into another state, it still will not recognize a same sex marriage. This prohibition is codified in section 741.212 of the Florida Statutes, which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and specifically prohibits Florida from recognizing same sex marriages legally entered into in another state.

UPDATE: Read about an alternative to common law marriage and Tampa’s new domestic partnership registry.

[Related:  In a Florida Child Custody Case, Does It Matter That I Am Gay?]

[Related:  In Which County Should I File My Florida Adoption Case?]

If you have questions regarding divorce or annulment and common law marriages and you wish to schedule a consultation with a Tampa Bay family law attorney, call The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.


About Adam B. Cordover, Attorney-at-Law

Family Diplomacy is dedicated to helping clients restructure their families privately and respectfully. We practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce and family law, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services. We maintain this out-of-court practice because we strongly believe that family disputes should be resolved in a private conference room, not in a hostile and public courtroom environment. This unique perspective on family law stems back to Adam B. Cordover’s experience studying International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and abroad. Adam had the rare opportunity to work closely with ambassadors and diplomats from war-torn regions around the world. He traveled around the globe, learning from diplomatic leaders as they applied dispute resolution techniques to tackle seemingly impossible conflicts. It dawned on him: If these techniques can work in the complex world of International Relations, why not Domestic Relations and Family Law? This realization lead Adam to create an exclusively out-of-court practice and to bring a more peacemaking approach to family law. In his previous role as a litigation attorney, Adam witnessed parties experience the negative emotional and financial effects that long, drawn out divorce battles can have on families. As a result, Adam has become a strong proponent of the Collaborative Process, where a structure is put in place so that life’s hardest moments do not have to be any more difficult than necessary. A thought leader in the international collaborative law community, Adam successfully spearheaded an effort of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit to draft an administrative order safeguarding the principles of collaborative family law (just the fourth such administrative order in Florida). Adam has been featured in or interviewed about collaborative practice by the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Florida Bar News, NBC, Fox 13, Bay News 9, ABC Action News, The World of Collaborative Practice Magazine, and Spirit FM 90.5. Adam regularly speaks at professional and civic organizations locally and internationally regarding the collaborative process. Adam B. Cordover is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest interdisciplinary collaborative practice group with member attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties. Adam is also on the Executive Board and co-chair of the Research Committee of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida. Further, Adam is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. You can learn more about us and our services at Attorney Adam B. Cordover is admitted to the Florida Bar and the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. His office is located at 412 East Madison Street, Suite 824, Tampa, Florida 33602.
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3 Responses to Does Florida Recognize Common Law Marriage?

  1. Pingback: Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act | ABC Family Law Blog

  2. Mary zanca says:

    If a couple is in a common law relationship in canada….does florida recognize it ….specifically in condo regulations?

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