What You May Not Know About Common Law Marriages

What You May Not Know About Common Law Marriages

The majority of my Family law practice is devoted to divorce (dissolution of marriage) cases. That however is not the only area of family law that I am involved in. There those cases which do not involve a marriage at all. Here is an example of what I am referring to. Let’s say a couple decides to live together and not get married. During their relationship they have a child, perhaps two. They stay together for several years even after the children are born, but they never get married. After a number of years they grow apart and decide to move on with their lives and separate. The question becomes, what issues might need to be addressed in this relationship.

Many of us have heard the term, “Common Law Marriage”. In states that recognize Common Law Marriage, a couple who are together for a number of years are in essence presumed to be married and therefore certain issues would need to be addressed based upon their “break up”. Florida however does not recognize Common Law Marriages. If a couple has not entered into a state sanctioned marriage, whether it be in Florida or any other jurisdiction, they are not considered to be married in Florida. That can be significant in some cases.  Assets or debts will not be addressed in the family court. There will be no provision for spousal support. This is true no matter how many years the parties may have been together. If there are disputed property rights it will be determined in civil court by the filing of a lawsuit and not by the filing of any divorce petition.

 Of course we still have to address the issues involved with the minor children. In Florida if a child is born outside of a marriage, an action to determine Paternity must be brought. Unless paternity is established a father will not be granted any of the rights of a parent. If the father wants to share in the parental responsibility or if either party wants to seek child support a paternity action must be brought. Either the mother or the father can file for paternity of a child. If Paternity is denied the court will order a DNA test which will determine if the individual is in fact the father. If there is no dispute then an Agreed Order of Paternity can be entered.  Once it is established, the Father shall have all the same rights and responsibilities of any Father. These rights would include Shared Parental Responsibility and time sharing. It would also require that child support be paid by either the mother or the father depending upon the income of each party, the time sharing schedule and the child support guidelines.

If you have any questions concerning this issue or any other family law matter give my office a call at 954 385-9160.