Marriage & Millennials: The Legal Impact of Not Getting Married

The current marriage rate among millennials is 26%—the lowest of any previous generation. The reason for this generational shift in marriage cannot be attributed to one thing alone but rather, is likely due to multiple factors and circumstances impacting this generation. These changes in marital patterns, however, have not resulted in any changes to the law and its application. For that reason, it is important to know how the current laws impact certain aspects of a relationship when a marriage exists as well as in the absence of a legal marriage.

LENGTH OF RELATIONSHIP

In the State of Florida, the length of a marriage is one of the factors considered when contemplating the topic of spousal support, better known as alimony. How long a couple has been together and what financial accomplishments have been obtained along the way are only relevant to a determination of spousal support when a legal marriage exists. In the absence of a legal marriage, it does not matter how long a couple has been in a relationship, how long they have lived together, nor how much financial wealth has been accumulated by one or both of the spouses during that time. The law will only recognize “length” where there is a marriage license. Otherwise, there is no relationship for the law to apply to. Depending on the financial standing of either individual—this is either a benefit or a detriment. It depends on the particular individual’s vantage point and position in the relationship.

If a couple is not legally married, despite any accumulation of assets/liabilities, in the event of a breakup, there would be no legal basis for equitable distribution.

ASSETS & LIABILITIES

In the State of Florida, any and all assets or liabilities accumulated during a marriage must be equitably divided in the event of a divorce. This means anything that came into existence on or after the date of the marriage right up until the date one individual files for divorce (regardless of how the asset or liability is titled) will need to be equitably divided between the two spouses. However, if the couple is not legally married, despite any accumulation of assets/liabilities, in the event of a breakup, there would be no legal basis for equitable distribution. Essentially, if everything is titled in one person’s name, then that person is entitled to keep the particular asset and/or liability they have title over.

CHILDREN

In the State of Florida, when a married couple has a child (or children), both parents already have established rights over the minor children in the event of a divorce. This is due to the child being born in an intact marriage. This means that a father/husband does not have to take the step of establishing their paternity because the legal marriage already serves to establish the legal paternal relationship. On the other hand, if two unmarried individuals have a child (or children) the only person who has established legal rights is the mother. The father would not have any legal rights until such time as said Father files a Petition to establish paternity. It does not matter that the father is named on the child’s birth certificate. It does not matter whether the parents live together or apart, or whether the parents have been in a long-term committed relationship. Any child born in the absence of a legal marriage only has one legal parent per the law and that is the mother. In this scenario, the father is disadvantaged by the lack of a legal marriage, because it is his legal rights as a father that do not exist as a result.

Marriage is not for everyone. It can be the right choice for some and not be a desirable option for others. It does not mean a relationship is more or less worthy. Ultimately, everyone has their own set of reasons why they want to say, ‘I do’ or ‘I rather not’.  Regardless of where a couple stands on the topic of marriage, it is important to know if and how the laws of your state will impact your relationship and family.

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