Ending a long-term romantic relationship can be emotionally devastating for both partners. While many couples that are together for a length of time choose to tie the knot, not all relationships lead to marriage. In these cases, many of the same issues that come up in divorce must be dealt with after a non-married couple separates. One of these issues is financial support.
In a divorce, all assets are divided between spouses as part of the dissolution process. This settlement is either agreed upon or ordered by the court in the divorce decree. As part of property division, one spouse may pay “spousal support,” also known as “alimony.” This is an amount of money that helps partners maintain the same standard of living after the relationship ends.
Support is often applicable in cases where one spouse worked outside the home and the other spouse took on homemaking responsibilities. However, when there is no legal marriage, this type of support is instead commonly referred to as “palimony.” Palimony is often seen in long-term relationships, with cohabitating couples, and in same-sex partnerships.
Rights of Unmarried Couples
Getting married confers a number of legal benefits and rights to both spouses. One of these rights relates to property acquired during the marriage relationship. After a couple gets divorced, Florida law provides that this property is to be divided fairly between the spouses. It is important to note that “fairly” does not necessarily mean an equal division.
Further, one spouse may pay an amount in spousal support to the other spouse. However, note that these laws do not apply to couples that were never legally married, regardless of the amount of time they were together.
State of Palimony in Florida
Note that the term “palimony” is not a recognized legal term in Florida. Further, the state also does not recognize “common law marriage.” A common law marriage is a situation where a couple is considered married simply by living together as spouses for a certain period of time. Instead, to be eligible for spousal support in Florida, you must have gone through the legal process for obtaining a marriage.
In addition, while Florida recognizes same-sex marriage, same-sex partnerships are not recognized. This means that same-sex couples need to go through the same legal process for marriage. After marriage, they are eligible to divorce and receive spousal support.
That being said, there are options for couples that have a long-term relationship but choose not to get married. In these situations, the partners may enter into a “cohabitation agreement” or a “non-marital agreement.” These agreements are contracts that essentially treat the relationship like a business partnership.
Cohabitation agreements may specify what property is jointly owned by the couple. They also set forth how these assets will be divided if the partnership should come to an end. Typical examples would be savings accounts and the home.
Note that certain terms in these contracts are considered unenforceable. An example would be an agreement to provide financial support to one partner in exchange for sex. It is also important that these contracts be in writing.
Provided a valid agreement is in place, the terms will determine the extent to which financial support will need to be paid by one partner to another. In reviewing the agreement, the courts will follow Florida Contract Law, not Florida Divorce Law. This is an important distinction because the division need not be considered “fair” as would be the case with property division through a divorce. Instead, the couple can choose to any division that they see fit.
Of course, certain issues will make these agreements unenforceable. A spouse cannot misrepresent assets through fraud or put pressure on a spouse to enter the agreement, known as undue influence. Because of these rules, it is important to have an attorney review your agreement to ensure that all terms are valid under state contract laws.
Options Without a Palimony Agreement
In cases where a relationship ends and there was no marriage or palimony agreement, it can be useful to speak with an attorney. This is particularly true if the couple accumulated significant assets during the relationship. There may be a conflict over which person should take ownership of the assets after separating.
Jointly held assets that are difficult to parse, such as a home, can be divided up by one partner paying a portion of the value of that asset to the other partner. Alternatively, the spouse may sell the property and split the proceeds.