Cohen v. Shushan

Cohen v. Shushan, --- So.3d --- (Fla. 2d DCA 2017)

In Florida, a "surviving spouse" receives certain benefits- they can take an intestate share of the deceased spouse's estate and they may also be entitled to an elective share, family allowance, homestead and so on. Under principles of comity, Florida courts will recognize the marriage of citizens of a foreign country if that marriage was valid under foreign law.  Here, a surviving child of a decedent and a purported spouse of the decedent disagreed regarding whether a marriage would be deemed valid under Israel law, and as a result whether the marriage should be recognized by the Florida Probate Court for inheritance purposes.

After hearing expert testimony on Israeli law, the trial court held that because the surviving spouse would be considered the decedent's "reputed spouse" under Israeli law, she should take under Florida's intestacy law.  A "reputed spouse," translated from Hebrew, means "Known in Public." The trial court found that because the arrangement of Israeli reputed spouses was viewed as a legal union, it should be recognized as a marriage in Florida.  

The Appellate Court disagreed.  In its review of Israeli law, the Court held that the only legal marriage in Israel is a religious marriage. It stated that, "[w]hile Israel has also established the reputed spouse relationship as something of an alternative marriage, and indeed, has conferred a broad array of rights to reputed couples that...are "equal" to marriage, Israeli law has purposely kept the status of these two relationships separate." Even though a reputed spouse in Israel may be entitled to inherit from their reputed spouse, the Court found that under Florida law, the "status" of being married is as important as the rights that come with marriage, and therefore only an Israeli religious marriage should be recognized.

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