“Shacking up” in Florida now legal

Law reflects changing ideals among Caribbean-American community

Governor Rick Scott has recently signed a bill repealing a Florida law making it illegal for couples to live together without being married. The former law has existed since 1868, but not many South Floridians, especially Caribbean Americans, were even aware of this law. In a recent CNW survey, 95 percent of Caribbean Americans admitted to not knowing it was illegal to live together out of marriage or “shacking up.”

The repeal reflects changing norms in society, as rates unmarried couples living together increased. A 2014 study by the National Center for Health Statistics found more than half of women between ages 15 to 44 years cohabited with their male partners.

“Rapid change in social and religious views has reflected on how people view marriage,” says Miami sociologist Nina Fallon. “More people, especially under [age] 35 are more pragmatic about their cohabitation than, say, before the 1960s. More young people rather live together to see if the relationship woks, rather than marrying and risk early divorce.”

Coinciding with the National Health Center 2014 report, National Weekly found over 50 percent of Caribbean-American men and women said they were living together or in “trial marriages” with their significant others.

“I really don’t see the need to rush into marriage at age 25,” says Noreen, a Kendall nurse who has been living with her 31-year old accountant boyfriend for the past three years. Expecting their first child in August, she says “You don’t even need to be married to have a baby.”

Incidences of couples living together out of wedlock were less prevalent with people over 40, and contradict views expressed by younger Caribbean-Americans. Martin, a 43-year old banker of Miramar who recently married his “significant other” of 12 years, said “We were living together all these years, acquired a lot, have two children and are now born-again Christians. It’s important to live right and marry.” Martin’s wife Amanda said in her youth she had no moral problems living out of wedlock, but now “[I] think it’s a bad example for the kids as they grow older.”

Pastor Mary Levitt of a Riviera Beach Pentecostal church says while her church “refuses to turn away anyone in search of salvation,” it does not condone people living together out of wedlock. The pastor says that while she understands “the world’s value system has changed, the Bible speaks strongly against fornication. Cohabiting involves sexual activities, and that’s fornication. To avoid fornication, we preach and encourage people to marry.”

Miami legal aid attorney Gillian Nevers says although the old law was outdated, (a law which “technically” was a second-degree misdemeanor carrying up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine) she urges couples who live together to “know their responsibilities.” Nevers says she has dealt with several cases where people who were in unmarried relationships, “agonized about ownership of property they acquired during the relationship.”

She said some people assume Florida’s joint-tenant laws automatically affect unmarried couples, but they do not.

“Unmarried couples should make sure before they buy a house or other assets that they take legal steps to decide on the ownership of these assets, in case the relationship ends, or a partner dies,” says Nevers. “This is an extremely responsible action, because unlike marriage, which by law apportions property, this doesn’t relate in unmarried relationships.”

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