Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage, is legal in Texas. Couples can have their union legally recognized without the formalities of a traditional marriage. However, not everyone understands the requirements of a common law marriage, and there are a number of consequences that come with it. The experienced team at Youngberg Law Firm is here to answer your family law questions.
What Is Common Law Marriage?
Common law marriage is a way for Texas couples to get married without the requirements of a traditional marriage. Two individuals may be legally acknowledged as married without having to obtain a marriage license or conduct a ceremony. These unions are becoming more relevant, given the number of couples who are living together without formally getting married. But there are a few specific preconditions of common law marriages.
What Are The Requirements Of Common Law Marriages?
Under the Texas Family Code, there are only three requirements for a Texas couple to be considered common law married:
- Two consenting adults who have an agreement to be married
- The couple cohabitates (lives together) in the State as spouses
- The couple holds itself out to the community (tells other people) as married
Both spouses must also have the legal capacity to be married. That means they both must be at least 18 years of age, of sound mind, not related to each other, and not already married to someone else.
Does The Agreement Have To Be In Writing?
Under the first element, there only needs to be an agreement to be married. There is no requirement that this agreement be in writing. This can present a challenge, however, to demonstrating an agreement actually exists. Texas law requires sufficient evidence to show an intent to have a present, immediate, and permanent marital relationship. This is more than just an agreement to get married at some point in the future.
In theory, a couple could write down their marriage proposal, but this is unlikely. Courts will typically look at the couple’s actions, for example, if there is video of a proposal or there is an engagement ring, even calling each other husband and wife in text messages could also count. Evidence like this may be sufficient to demonstrate that there’s an agreement to be married.
How Long Does A Couple Have To Live Together?
The second element of a common law marriage requires a couple to live together, but Texas law does not set a minimum amount of time to do so. Some couples mistakenly believe they will automatically be common law married if they just live together long enough. However, they can cohabitate for as little as one day, meet the other statutory requirements, and be considered common law married.
Is It Enough To Simply Live Together?
To meet the second requirement, a couple has to maintain a household and do things commonly done by spouses. In other words, merely living together is not enough. Parties could even live together for 50 years and not be married if they don’t meet the other requirements. As you can imagine, there are many gray areas when it comes to whether a couple is actually cohabitating as spouses. If you have questions about whether you meet this requirement, ask an experienced Texas family law attorney.
What Does It Mean To Hold Oneself Out As Married?
To hold oneself out as married means to represent to others that you are in fact married. This commonly includes such actions as telling family and friends you are married, introducing each other as husband and wife, buying a house together and listing each other as a married couple, adding each other to their health or life insurance as a spouse and many other ways. One of the most common pieces of evidence that comes up in a common law marriage situation is when parties file a joint tax return or sign a lease while holding themselves out as married.
Is There A Difference Between Traditional And Common Law Marriage?
Couples who have never been traditionally married can still be recognized as having the legal equivalent of a licensed married couple. Many people simply choose to not pursue the traditional marriage route, for reasons such as:
- The high cost of a wedding ceremony
- Dislike of the formalities of traditional marriage
- Not having time to complete the legal requirements of a traditional marriage
Common law married couples have the same rights and obligations as those who are traditionally married. They have the same legal status and enjoy the same benefits. This includes the right to a division of marital assets and the right to spousal maintenance.
Is There Common Law Divorce?
There are no special divorce proceedings for couples who are in a common law marriage. They must pursue a formal divorce like anyone else. The difference, however, is that the couple must prove to a court that they were in a common law marriage. Usually, the person who initiates divorce is the one who tries to prove the existence of the common law marriage. There is a rebuttable presumption, however, that if divorce proceedings are not initiated within 2 years of the end of the relationship, there was no common law marriage. It is important for people ending a common law marriage to file for divorce before that 2 year window closes.
How Can Youngberg Family Law Help Me?
Divorce of a common law couple is typically initiated because of the need to determine custody arrangement for a child of the marriage or in order to divide marital property. These issues can be highly stressful to deal with and can lead to a high conflict divorce.
If you believe you are in a common law marriage, or the other partner does, a court could order marital assets and debts to be divided. A court may also order one spouse to financially support the other. Recall that common law marriages are legally valid just as traditional ones are. But where traditional marriages have a license and ceremony to prove their existence, common law marriages are more circumstantial. Courts have to evaluate the facts in each case to determine whether the statutory factors have been met.
At Youngberg Family Law, we look at the entirety of every common law marriage and consider what the evidence says. We will review the allegations in your case and advise as to how a court may see it. Then, we will go to work and defend your rights, no matter which side you are on. Reach out to us today to schedule your consultation.