Welcome to the 21st century, Florida. After 148 years, common law partners, domestic partners, and other unwed couples living together in Florida no longer have to live in fear of breaking the law.
On April 6, Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill officially repealing a state law prohibiting cohabitation by unmarried partners. The repeal was one of twenty bills the governor signed into law.
Although the repeal is largely symbolic in nature—the antiquated law was rarely, if ever, enforced in modern times—Florida lawmakers still pushed for it in light of the dramatic changes in living arrangements in recent times.
Dangers to Young and Old Couples
According to democratic Florida State Rep. Richard Stark, –one of the repeal effort’s co-sponsors–, both seniors and young couples are at risk of being prosecuted by a law that dates back to the Reconstruction period. Stark, who represents communities of seniors, added that many elderly Floridians are technically unmarried but living together for various reasons, some having to do with finances, others related to Social Security.
“I don’t think that they want to be considered to be violating the law,” he said.
Census data shows there are around 438,000 unmarried male-female couples among 7.3 million households in Florida.
None of the Government’s Business
Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee gave another angle to the repeal, saying, “The government has no business looking under the sheets as to why two people are living together; that is not the government’s business.”
Although the bill met unanimous approval in the Florida House, 5 Republican state senators voted “no” to the repeal.
Florida Law Since 1868
Laws prohibiting co-habitation by unwed couples were once commonplace throughout the United States in the late 19th century until the mid 20th century, when attitudes on informal marriages changed. In Florida, offenders could face a second-degree misdemeanor resulting in 60 days of jail time, and/or a fine of $500.
The newly signed law abolishes the statute prohibiting unwed men and women from “engaging in open behavior that is gross lewdness and lascivious.”
Only Michigan and Mississippi Left
Michigan and Mississippi are the only remaining states that still have co-habitation laws in their books. The issue raised its head in 2005, when a Michigan appeals court withheld visitation rights from a divorced father after the court learned he allowed his girlfriend to sleep at his home when his children were around.
Most recently, Mississippi passed House Bill 1523, an act widely considered as an anti-LGBT law that allegedly protects citizens who see marriage as “the union of one man and one woman,” and believe sexual relations should be “properly reserved to such a marriage.”
For what it’s worth, Florida’s co-habitation law technically never applied to same-sex couples.
If you are in need of a consultation for your family law matter, contact Lyttle Law Firm. Visit our website or call our offices at 512-215-5225 to schedule a consult.