The problem for many couples married overseas before coming to Florida is that the United States is stricter than many parts of the world about getting government-sanctioned permission for a wedding. In many countries, a couple’s marriage is strictly a private affair — if they’re married according to local customs, that’s enough for the government.
When one of those spouses happens to die in Florida, the legality of that marriage can sometimes be thrown into question — especially if there are other potential beneficiaries waiting in the wings and all-too-willing to take possession of whatever the widow or widower would otherwise be rightfully due.
There is hope for those stuck in that kind of situation. While Florida does not recognize common-law marriages, where a couple never formalizes their relationship through a ceremony but holds themselves out to the community as a married couple, it does recognize marriages that don’t necessarily meet the definition of a legal marriage under the laws in the United States.
For example, there was a dispute over the inheritance rights of a woman who was the “reputed spouse” of a man under Israeli law — which is legally recognized in that country as equal to marriage and confers all the same benefits. The couples in such relationships are essentially without other options if they aren’t religious or are unable to obtain a religious marriage because Israel offers no form of state-sanctified marriage. In other words, there’s no possibility of getting married by a judge — and not everyone has the capacity to be married in a religious ceremony for one reason or another. These reputed marriages are distinct from common-law unions under Israeli law but lack a precise term that easily translates.
The court found in favor of the “reputed” widow over the objections of his first wife, with whom he’d had a religious ceremony. While this clearly benefits any reputed widows or widowers in Florida, this ruling also has implication for surviving spouses who have a religious certificate of marriage but not a government-sanctioned certificate because the country they were married in doesn’t require them. For example, some Middle Eastern countries rely entirely on a marriage contract to validate a union — no government approval is necessary.
If your rightful inheritance is being disputed because you were married under foreign customs, talk to a probate attorney today.