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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Is a “reputed spouse” treated as a surviving spouse under Florida law?

In Cohen v. Shushan, 212 So.3d 1113 (Fla. 2nd DCA March 15, 2017), the Second District Court of Appeals held that a reputed spouse (ie. a common law spouse) of an Israeli decedent was not deemed to be a surviving spouse entitled to rights in the decedent’s Florida estate because their relationship in Israel, although having a legally recognized status, was not considered to be a legally recognized marriage in Israel.  See full article… (link)

Yehezkel Cohen died residing in Israel and was survived by two adult children from a prior marriage and four adult children from his relationship with his partner, Mali Ben Shushan. Although Cohen and Shushan held themselves out as a married couple and lived with each other in Israel for many years up until his passing, they never participated in a religious marital ceremony, as required by Israeli law, nor did they ever participate in any other type of marital ceremony. Upon Cohen’s death, Diana Cohen, a child from his prior marriage, filed a petition for intestate administration claiming that the decedent’s six children were the rightful heirs of the decedent’s estate. Shushan countered by arguing that she was considered to be a “common law spouse” or a “reputed spouse,” which entitled her to all of the benefits of a spouse under Israeli law. At trial, the probate court held that her status in Israel was the equivalent as a surviving spouse, and therefore she was entitled to a surviving spouse’s share of the estate.

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals, based on testimony from several experts, noted that there was a clear legal distinction under Israeli law between a reputed spouse and a spouse by marriage. The former status is not recognized as an actual legal marriage between a husband and wife because a religious marital ceremony was not performed. As such, relying on this critical dichotomy under Israeli law, the District Court reversed the probate court’s ruling and held that Shushan was not considered to be a surviving spouse under Florida law.

The Takeaway?

The court did not base its decision upon our country’s definition of marriage, but rather focused upon the two distinct legal statuses created under Israeli law.

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