Back in the old days, when two people lived together for a long time and acted as though they were a couple, the law recognized them as married. However, over the years many states have passed laws that define marriage as a legal contract between two people that must be signed by both parties to be recognized.
A common law marriage is one in which the parties have lived together for many years, hold themselves out as husband and wife, and are therefore deemed married without a marriage license. Some states continue to view marriages made without a license, without witnesses, and without a civil or religious ceremony as legal. These states recognize such relationships and afford them protection under the law.
State laws require adherence to strict conditions for a common law marriage to occur.
- The couple lives together for a certain and significant period of time in a state that recognizes common law marriage
- The couple holds themselves out as a married couple. Evidence of this could include referring to each other as husband and wife, using the same last name, etc.
- The couple has the intent to be married
Unless a couple meets all of these criteria, there is no common law marriage.
Florida does not recognize common law marriage, though it honors common law marriages that started in other states that recognize it.
This means Florida couples who separate after living together may do so without involving any legal action. However, if you originally came from a state that recognizes common law marriage and you and your partner meet the common law criteria of that state, you may be obligated to go through a legal divorce proceeding to formally end your relationship.
The important point is to know all of your legal rights when deciding to live together and when deciding if, and when, to separate. Only then can you take the appropriate steps to protect your legal rights.