You’re Not Married Until The Paperwork Is Finished

When I first heard of this case, I thought it was an interesting but isolated case– the sort of thing that happens but is not common.  I may have been wrong.  In one of those serendipitous coincidences, I met a lady at a speaking engagement who told me about a situation involving several of her friends.  Several couples at a club that she belonged to had recently been “married” by a notary who also belonged to the club.  They had ceremonies, but failed to get licenses.  Apparently, the notary informed them that a license was not necessary.  WRONG!

Florida outlawed common law marriages in 1967. Since then no amount of playing house together can make you husband and wife in Florida, as discovered by Kimberly Hall and Roberto Maal.  Ms. Hall and Dr. Maal had the full ceremony, represented to the world that they were husband and wife, purchased a home as “husband and wife,” and even had two children.  However, one small detail was never attended to; i.e., they failed to obtain a marriage license, solemnize the marriage before an acceptable official, and return the license to the clerk of the court for recording.  The completed step one (i.e., they got a license), but failed to complete steps two and three.  See, Fla. Stat. sections 741.01 to 741.212 Years later when trouble arose, Ms. Hall was denied a “divorce” because she and Dr. Maal were never married.

A failure to obtain a license and be properly married can have serious consequences in a number of situations besides divorces.  In a divorce, it can cause a loss of rights to marital property and alimony.  Moreover, in an estate, it could cause a loss of rights to a life estate in a homestead, an elective share, and family allowance.  If there is no marriage, then there is no surviving spouse.  If  the purchasers of real property are not married, then they do not acquire the property as tenants-by-the-entireties and have no creditor protection and no survivor rights.  The forgotten marriage license is the opposite of the forgotten spouse problem.  Either one is serious though.


14 thoughts on “You’re Not Married Until The Paperwork Is Finished

  1. I feel terrible because my attorney convinced me to file for divorce knowing that I was not married. Now I dont know what to do, because who is now responsible for the attorney’s fees. This litigation has been going on for over 4 years. Will I be responsible?

      • I was a close friend to this couple. As a matter of fact, it was a MUTUAL decision not to get a license. Mr. Maal NEVER told miss Hall he was going to get a license until she did what she had agreed on! Both were very aware that their ceremony was not going to make them officially married. When Mr. Maal terminated the relationship, miss Hall consulted a scandolous attorney. He improperly advised her to file for divorce, knowing that she was not married.
        In her testimony when cross examined she was asked; ” When did you realize that you were married ?”
        Miss Hall replied : ” WHEN I MET MY ATTORNEY !!! ” (page 47).

        Now that miss Hall lost her ludicrous case, she is definately irate with her pathetic attorney! She now calls him a scoundrel. That is after she attempted to maliciously accuse her partner. She knows better!!!
        As I recall, Mr. maal was very as a matter of fact. He made it very clear and he never misguided miss Hall.
        Very sad that the court system went along with this frivolous litigation. What an injustice the court system did to this family!
        I bet those judges profited , just like the attorneys!
        God is great!! Their day is coming.

  2. I don’t know the answer to Ms. Maal’s question because I do not know all the details of her case. However, I do know that Florida follows the “American Rule” when it comes to attorney’s fees. That means that in Florida the prevailing party is only entitled to attorney’s fees if there is a statute or a contract that gives the prevailing party fees. There is probably not a contract in this case, unless the parties entered into a prenuptial that is still valid. Fees are awardable in divorces based upon need and ability to pay. However, the court held that there was no marriage and hence no cause of action for divorce.

    • I am actually very familiar with this case and many things have failed to be mentioned. True…the couple did not have a license, but this is the scenario: Mr. Maal had contacted Ms. Maal from work the week before the wedding when they were scheduled to get the license. He called her and stated he was running behind with patients and they would have to get the license later. The week had gone by and the Friday before the wedding they had no license. Mr. Maal assured Ms. Maal that everything would be fine and they would get the license and just have the pastor sign it right after the wedding. The following is taken from court documents from the pastor who performed the actual wedding ceremony for Mr. and Ms. Maal: “Mr. Maal told me that he had a license but had left it at home.” The pastor asked him at the rehearsal dinner and the day of the wedding. Mr. Maal stated both times that he had forgotten the license at home. Mr. Maal had planned on having it signed by the pastor in the following weeks. Also, this is not a common law marriage. A common-law marriage is defined as, “a marriage that takes legal effect, without license or ceremony, when a couple live together as husband and wife.” As there may be a few similarities that are mentioned in the above article, it is still quite different. This marriage was performed at a formal ceremony, by a chaplain (an acceptable official), with over 200 witnesses, but as mentioned, without a license. The couple was known to family, friends and co-workers as Dr. and Mrs. Maal. They lived their lives as husband and wife. They signed as husband and wife on various forms of documentation. Mr. Maal even signed himself as being married on his son’s birth certificate, and this was one year after the ceremony. The Legislature does not expressly state anywhere in Chapter 741 that marriages conducted without a license are invalid or prohibited. And when this case was originally sent to the appellate court, majority ruled against the lower court’s decision, “We reverse the trial court’s determination that a valid marital relationship did not exist…” as long as the marriage was in good faith and substantial compliance. At that particular filing, the appellate court sided with Mrs. Maal. I read this case and I can’t imagine this marriage not being done in good faith by both parties. And as far as legal fees go, Ms. Maal filed a legitimate suit-definitely not frivolous by anyone’s standards. This was not just about the marriage. There are other legitimate factors. Costs would have incurred whether it was a divorce or a paternity suit. By records, Mr. Maal substantially has the means to pay.

  3. Thanks for your response Mr. Hacknney. How can I make sure that I will not be responsible for the attorney’s fees, because it was my attorneys idea to make this case. I only wanted child support, but he insisted on persuing a ” DIVORCE “, knowing that we were not legally married. He was sure that we would get 50 % of all assets. After we lost in the lower court, he persued the appeal without consulting me. Can he now come after me for all his fees?
    What about if I have to repay the opposing attorney fees? Is that possible?

    • Kimberly, there is not a day that goes by that we (Scott and I) don’t think of you and the kids. I hope you and your two beautiful kids are doing well. We miss you!

  4. As I’ve said before in response to other posts, I don’t give specific legal advice on my blog. I’d suggest that you sit down with your attorney and discuss your fears, concerns, and where you go from here. Try to not be accusatory.

  5. Some facts to consider:
    1. Everyone has an opinion.
    2. Most people don’t have a clue what really happened.
    3. Only Ms. Hall and Mr. Maal know what really happened.
    4. Who really tried to help this couple?
    5. Did this litigation really help any one’s cause, besides introducing more strife in this families relationship.
    6. When the lights are ” OUT ” and this case is in the books, how will Ms. Hall explain to her kids what she tried to do.
    7. Ms. Hall was very aware what was required to be married and she knew that she NEVER attained that goal.
    8. Sincere ” GOOD LUCK “to this family and may you keep those bloodsuckers away!

  6. My husband and I were married by minister in California in 1994 in front of 100 people. We did not file the paper work with the county. We had two children and I believe we filed taxes as husband and wife for a few years at least. We had two homes where we were listed as husband and wife on the deed. I trusted him so foolishly. We had two children and I spent most of my time and resources raising them. I can’t believe I did not make some kind of legal contract with him to protect myself. I just had no idea he would ever do what he did.

    I inherited money in 1998 and put it all down on a house. My husband paid the mortgage and the value went up 20% every year for the next 10 years. We borrowed against it- took out equity repeatedly- then he started to take out equity on his own, with my approval, to pay off his business equipment and back taxes on his business. Maxing the houses equity out. His business thrives.

    Early last year he began to become very erratic and wanted me out of the house, threatening me and becoming violent. He took everything that wasn’t nailed down, even the expensive toilet and left hazardous waste, gasoline soaked paper towels and weird trash everywhere. Now it turns out I do not get access to any of the things we bought together with the equity from the house unless the receipt is in my name. Small claims court???

    He now claims there is no marriage and I get nothing of his business he let the house go in foreclosure and is not lying veraciously about his self employment income so I get very little child support for the full custody of the kids I have.

    We stopped filing taxes together because his accountant convinced him we were not married. I always believed we were, but followed his lead with the taxes. What I dummy I have been. It just goes to show you, you might think you know who you are marrying, but you never know who they will become. Marriage protects women and children and a prenup is important. Don’t trust them. Give your heart but don’t hand over all your security.

  7. Amazing-I’m still discovering lies over two years later. The above posts were not made by “Kimberly Maal,” but I could guess who actually posted them. Quite pathetic, RRM! And “Marty,” you sound like a broken record of someone else I know. The fact is “Marty” (other than I have never known a Marty in my life—so-called “mutual friend”), we did actually have a license, but obviously, not in the appropriate order or we wouldn’t be reading this. Mr. Maal was deceptive to me just as the pastor testified, he was also deceptive to him stating, “Mr. Maal said he would have the license later” and the pastor was going to sign it. And “Marty”, Mr. Maal did not terminate the relationship. I have nothing to hide, but out of respect for my children, I won’t divulge his dirty laundry and the reasons I left. I will say, I left March 15, 2005 and I have never looked back. And I only hired an attorney after he refused to pay child support after one year, which is horrifically sad if you knew the true circumstances of this case. And “Marty” I guess this case was not too frivolous if the appellate court initially ruled in my favor stating the marriage was legal. I think they truly saw Mr. Maal’s deception. But in the end, it was not legal. It opened up doors for common law marriages. So nobody really wins here. I would never had to see an attorney if Mr. Maal had made an agreement to pay child support in the first place. And KATHY…I can say gold digger, but can you spell? YDRL…you have your facts straight. HEATHER & SCOTT- I miss you guys, too! You knew my situation back then, and I truly thank you for all of your help. And CARL, your numbers 1-5 and 8 sound great, but you contradict yourself with your judgment in numbers 6 and 7. When the lights are out, let’s just say I sleep more soundly now than ever. I will not have to tell my children anything, because ACTIONS speak much louder than words. I am the best parent to my children, and all I can say, I am glad that I at least stepped up to the plate as a parent. We are now relocated and happier than ever. There is PEACE and HAPPINESS in our home now. As for marriage, truly, that was NEVER a big goal in my life. You don’t know me at all. And as you stated, nobody ever truly knows what goes on in any situation. YOU’VE GOT THAT RIGHT! JANEV, I am so sorry about your situation. I understand completely. There are many similarities to which I can relate. I was so trusting and definitely naive. Hang in there. All I can say is, my marriage not being legal, is not what defines me. My attitude is, it’s in the past, over, done. MOVE ON! Life is too short and I am absolutely making the best of it…and happily without a husband!

  8. Another case, Namwar vs Bittner, 2011,concluded that no marriage existed. Both Mr. Namwar and Miss Hall knew that they were not married. I guess they were both financially inclined to attempt to falsefy a marriage. I applaud Judge Randy Bellows for imposing a fine for that fraudulent intent. I wonder why the Pensacola judges where so senseless! Probably financial motivation.

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