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.