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Property Rights of Florida Cohabitating Couples

Living together prior to, or even in lieu of, marriage is more commonplace now than ever – according to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2010, 45% of U.S. households were comprised of unmarried couples. Yet in Florida, cohabitation is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. Do couples who live together in a marital-like relationship then have any rights to a division of assets acquired during the relationship if that relationship ends?                                                                                                               

Florida Property Rights and Unmarried Couples

Despite Florida’s prohibition against cohabitation, contracts entered into between the couple prior to, or during, the cohabitation are enforceable in court. These contracts are similar to premarital agreements and may outline the rights of each party to property acquired during the relationship, contributions made by one party to the property of another (for example, one partner pays half the mortgage on the home that is owned solely by the other), and even provisions to provide support to the other party.

Prior to 1982 trial courts refused to enforce any contracts between cohabiting couples based on public policy concerns – that is, cohabitation was illegal, so any contract between cohabiting couples was also illegal and unenforceable. But in Poe v. Estate of Levy, a Florida appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of a contract enforcement case, holding that the consideration for the cohabitation agreement the parties entered in to was more than simply “illicit sexual relations,” and thus enforceable, despite the state’s ban on cohabitation. Both parties had given up something in return for the promises made under the contract, thus rendering it enforceable.

This reasoning was upheld in Stevens v. Muse and Posik v. Layton. In both cases, the lower court refused to enforce the contract on the grounds that cohabitation violated public policy, and therefore consideration for the contract – again, sexual relations – was based on immoral grounds. In both cases the appellate court reversed, ruling that while cohabitation violated state public policy, the contracts in both cases were based on promises of support and payment of money in exchange for certain property, and not simply sexual relations.

These cases highlight the need for couples to enter into a cohabitation agreement prior to moving in together. An agreement that outlines what the parties will give to the arrangement, and what they expect to receive in return – for example, “Bill will pay one-half of the monthly mortgage, and Ann will transfer one-half of the house to him” – make clear that the contract is based on something of value, rather than simply sex or the act of moving in, and is therefore enforceable in court.

Experienced Boca Raton Family Law Attorneys

If you lived with your partner for any length of time and acquired property together, or if you are contemplating moving in with your partner, the Boca Raton family law attorneys at Schwartz | White can help. The end of a relationship, no matter how long-term it was, does not grant you the same rights as a married couple in terms of division of assets. But you do have rights to property that you acquired jointly, contributed payment to, or which is under contract. And creating a cohabitation agreement, or domestic partnership agreement, prior to moving in with your partner can ensure your property rights are protected in the event the relationship sours. Contact our office today at 561-391-9943, or complete our convenient web form, to schedule an appointment with an attorney.

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