How to Prove a Common Law Marriage

The concept of a common law marriage is often surrounded by a lot of speculation. Many people believe they know what it entails: that being with your partner for a set number of years means you’re legally recognized as a married couple, despite not having an official ceremony. Yet, it’s always important to avoid proceeding on the basis of popular belief on such matters.

In truth, common law marriage in Florida is a complex matter. There are specific restrictions in place surrounding its application. Even if your relationship hypothetically qualifies for recognition under state legislation, you’ll still need to provide sufficient evidence to support your relationship status. Therefore, it’s vital to work with a family lawyer in Florida that has experience navigating the intricacies of this situation.

Nevertheless, it’s worth getting to grips with how to prove a common law marriage, alongside the qualification requirements you’re likely to face.

What’s the Definition of a Common Law Marriage?

So, what is a common law marriage? In Florida, the definition of a common law marriage is one in which a lawful relationship between two parties has not undergone an officially recognized marriage ceremony, yet the couple have still lived together and presented as a married couple would. In essence, this type of relationship asserts that while there wasn’t a religious or legal ceremony involved, the relationship is practically the same. The relationship should, therefore, be treated in a similar fashion with all the rights and responsibilities afforded to married couples in the state. 

However, it’s important to note that Florida no longer recognizes the majority of common law marriages. In 2016, the state legislature declared that all new common law marriages would be legally void. Indeed, this was applied retroactively to an extent. Florida statute chapter 741 section 211 states “No common-law marriage entered into after January 1, 1968, shall be valid…” As a result, in most cases, you can only claim common law marriage in Florida if it would be recognized under the legislation prior to 1968.

So, if you do fall under this category, what is considered a common law marriage? Well, contrary to popular belief there is no set amount of time that you and your partner must have been together prior to 1968. Each case will be judged on its individual merits by the court. Often, this will involve consent between both parties that they’d entered into a marital-type relationship. It also tends to include the couple living in the same dwelling consistently throughout their common law marriage. There should also be a clear sign that the couple have been presenting as married both in their public interactions and administrative actions, such as when filing taxes and handling finances.

As with many legal concepts, there are certain exceptions here. Primarily this involves the couple having lived in a state that recognizes common law marriages. The relationship must have met the requirements of that state while the couple was living there prior to their move to Florida. In these instances, the Florida courts may consider your relationship under the definition of a common law marriage. However, the definitions of common law marriage vary from state to state, so you’ll need to establish whether yours applies to the location you previously inhabited.

Why Might You Need to Prove a Common Law Marriage?

Proving a common law marriage can be a challenging process to undertake. So, why is this something you might need to pursue? Well, in many cases, it’s because you want to protect your legal rights and entitlements. After all, as with an officially registered marriage, a couple that has lived together over a significant period of time will have accrued a certain amount of property and debts in collaboration with one another. It’s important that in the event of a separation these are handled in a similar way to a traditional marriage. As a result, couples qualifying as having a common law marriage may want to have the court assert the entitlement of a fair division of assets and debts, and potentially spousal support.

Another possible reason to prove a common law marriage is to confirm child custody and visitation rights. In Florida, custody cases are often much more simple when the couple is married. After all, this results in automatic paternity registration upon birth. This tends not to be a factor in common law marriages. However, being able to prove that you presented as a couple consistently over the years can go some way to demonstrate that the parents have both played a central role in the child’s life. Therefore, the judge may take this into consideration when making custody plans.

However, it’s also important to recognize that common law marriages can apply to more than just divorce and custody-related cases. For instance, they can play a key role in inheritance disputes. Without evidence of a valid marriage, individuals may face challenges in asserting their rights to the estate of their deceased partner if no will has been recorded. Establishing a common law marriage can provide the legal basis for claiming inheritance, ensuring that the deceased’s significant other can assert their rights to property and assets.

The status of a common law marriage can also be vital for insurance coverage and benefits. Many insurance policies, including health insurance and life insurance, offer coverage and benefits to spouses. By establishing a common law marriage, individuals can extend such coverage to their partner and ensure access to crucial healthcare services and financial support in times of need.

What Types of Proof Might You Need?

While the courts will establish whether a relationship — either from prior to 1968 or in another state — falls under the definition of a common law marriage, proof will still be required. After all, the onus of evidence always falls to you and your partner. This can be a complex matter, which is why it is so important to collaborate with an attorney that has experience representing men in Florida on such matters. They’ll be able to help you examine the specific details of your partnership, alongside your motivations for proving your connection, and assist in developing a packet of evidence the courts are most likely to accept. 

Some of the items that can help prove a common law marriage include:

Documentary Evidence

Documentary evidence plays a crucial role in proving a common law marriage. This refers to proof that has been created by an independent third party that supports the characteristics of a common law marriage. For instance, joint bank account statements and bills can show you both took equal financial responsibility. Joint mortgage or lease agreements can demonstrate you’ve cohabited over a period of time. In the case of an out-of-state common law marriage, documents showing the courts of that state recognize your relationship status can be particularly useful.

Public Acknowledgment

Public acknowledgment that you’ve presented as effectively a married couple can be a powerful form of evidence. This may include video or document form proof that you’ve introduced each other as spouses during social or professional occasions or used a common last name. It could also involve evidence that you’ve filed joint tax returns as a married couple. These types of public acts demonstrate your desire to be recognized as married in a public forum.

Testimonial Evidence

Testimonial evidence involves the testimony of witnesses who can confirm the existence and nature of the relationship. These witnesses can be friends, family members, coworkers, or neighbors who have observed your behavior as a couple, your living arrangements, and any other form of presentation as a married couple. This may involve formal testimony during a court case in the event of a dispute between you and your partner. However, in many cases, notarized affidavits from these individuals can be sufficient.

Personal and Financial Affidavits

In some cases, you and your partner may be required to submit personal and financial affidavits as part of your evidence. These provide detailed information about your relationship history, living arrangements, financial arrangements, and mutual commitments. Effectively, this is a comprehensive overview of your shared life. This is not usually sufficient proof of a common law marriage on its own. However, it can help support other forms of evidence as part of a more comprehensive representation.

Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510

In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are navigating relationship difficulties and require proof of the circumstances of their partnerships. Our team’s experience and skills help to guide our clients through the challenges of the Florida family law courts. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.



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