It is quite common nowadays for people to choose to live together in a mutually supportive relationship rather than get married. A cohabitating couple like this may live like spouses. For example, one may stay home with the children while the other works and furthers their career, or they might pool income while sharing expenses.
If a couple in those circumstances breaks up, the need for financial support from one to the other going forward may be as real as it would be after a legal marriage.
Spousal support only available to divorcing spouses
However, in Florida cohabitating in a supportive relationship is not enough to secure an alimony obligation, no matter how much the unmarried couple’s life resembles those of many who are married. To reap the financial benefits of marriage at divorce, there must have been a legal marriage – and alimony is a right reserved to divorcing spouses.
What about common-law marriage?
On Jan. 1, 1968, Florida stopped recognizing common-law marriages. A common-law marriage is one in which the law establishes a legal marriage after a couple has lived together for a set number of years while holding themselves out to the community as married. Common-law marriages in Florida from before 1968 or that were validly created under the law of another state are still valid in Florida, but cohabitation after common-law marriages in Florida were no longer valid does not create a marriage.
“In Florida, no legal rights or duties flow from mere cohabitation,” said the Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida in Castetter v. Henderson.
Nonmarital cohabitation agreements
As an alternative, people who cohabitate without marrying may execute a private, written contract that provides for support payments should they separate. The agreement may be as detailed and precise as the parties want it to be. Florida contract law will apply to enforcement and interpretation of such an agreement.