As most of you know by now, a legally married surviving spouse has all sorts of valuable inheritance rights under Florida Law. Often, the question of whether or not a decedent was validly married at the time of his or her death is the main question in a contested estate. The recent case of Cohen v. Shushan involves this very question.
Although the case involves unique aspects of Israeli marital law and may be more factually interesting to our Jewish readers, there is a universal application. The case turns upon the currently contentious fact that only marriages performed by the Chief Rabbinate are recognized as legal marriages in Israel. There is much debate presently within Israeli society and particularly within the American Jewish community about whether this long-standing legal restriction on marriage continues to be appropriate.
In this particular case, Yehezel Cohen and Tami Rana were legally married in a religious ceremony in Israel on September 2, 1981. The couple had two children, Diana and Michael Cohen. Following their separation, Ms. Rana moved with the children to Florida and, in 1985, she and Mr. Cohen were divorced.
A few years later Mr. Cohen formed a romantic relationship with Ms. Shushan. Beginning in 1990, they lived together as a couple in Israel and remained together until Mr. Cohen’s death in 2013. Ms. Shushan and Mr. Cohen had four (4) children together, ran Israeli businesses together as partners, and held themselves out as married to their friends and family. However, they never participated in a religious wedding through any religious authority recognized under Israeli law. Under Israeli law, Ms. Shushan had certain rights as a “reputed spouse.”