Can Love Last without Marriage? – Kurt and Goldie vs. Florida Law

May 25, 2022

Hollywood is known for racking up as many flops at the altar as at the box office. One of its longest-running relationships will never end in divorce – because it has never included marriage. Celebrity lovebirds Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are still going strong almost 40 years without marrying, even after becoming parents to now-35-year-old son Wyatt Russell. But things might not be so blissful if they lived in Florida, which offers no legal or financial protection for unmarried couples (unless they do the proper estate planning). As we celebrate National Seniors Month in May, this is a good time for older Florida couples to review their legal affairs.

Hawn, 75, and Kurt Russell, 70, have been together since 1983. They had first met in 1968 on a movie set, but their age difference kept any sparks from starting. (She was 21; he was 16). They started dating in 1983, when they met again while making the movie “Swing Shift.” Thirty-nine years later, they are regularly spotted sharing affection and offer no signs of splitting up. If this couple lived in Florida and decided to call it quits, they would have no rights to each other’s property. That means that in Florida, couples who want to avoid marriage need to make sure their lawyers have them covered.

What Legal Rights Does Florida Give Unmarried Couples?

In a word, none.

Unlike some other states, Florida does not recognize common-law marriage, which is a relationship where have partners have lived together for many years so that their union is deemed to be permanent. A common-law couple is considered married in all but ways except they do not have a marriage license. Their state might even give “palimony,” which is the unmarried person’s version of alimony.

Here is how it works in Florida. Simply put, if a cohabitating couple breaks up, each person takes what is theirs. In terms of real estate, whosever name is on the title to the property gets to keep it. The other person has no right to any of that property nor do they have any lawful provisions that would allow them a grace period to remain in that home. If both names are on title to a real estate property, it is up to the couple to decide whether to keep it or sell it, and who should get the sale proceeds or sell their interest in the property to the former partner. Essentially, the court does not get involved unless one of them files a lawsuit.

However, if the unmarried couple has a child together and the child has lived in Florida for the last six months of the co-habiting relationship, the court does step in as it would for a married couple divorcing. To protect the child’s welfare, the court will require the parents to set up a plan providing for the child’s needs. It may include court-ordered child support.

Death is an analogous situation. If a couple has lived together for a long time and one partner dies, the other partner is not entitled to any of the inheritance. Unless of course, their name is also on the bank accounts, the home, or the car, OR if there is a Last Will and Testament (“Will”) in place or a Trust naming the surviving partner as the beneficiary.

Conversely, Florida does offer legally married spouses many protections in case of death or divorce. Death benefits include things such as a “life estate,” or the right to live in the couple’s home (homestead) for the remainder of their life if they make the proper elections within six months of the first spouse’s death. They can also claim what is called an “elective share” or a certain portion, approximately up to 30%, of the surviving spouse’s estate. Marital and inheritance laws are intricate and vary state to state, so it is always best to seek the advice of a Florida attorney.

Breaking up is hard enough to do when you are married and can rely on the law to help you split property, but it gets downright complicated if you never got married. The longer you are together, the more property you will accumulate and the greater the need will become. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or to get started with a free phone consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.