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Common Law Marriage in Texas: Yes or No?

Common law marriage in Texas is legally recognized. It offers offer couples an alternative route to a legal marriage. Learn more in this guide.

evident Editorial Team
February 9, 2024
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Common law marriage in Texas is legally recognized. Unlike the traditional ceremonies and paperwork associated with formal marriages, common law marriages in Texas offer couples an alternative route to a legal marriage.

But what exactly does it mean to be "common law married" in the Lone Star State? And why is it crucial for Texans, and even those outside the state, to understand its nuances? Common law marriage, also known as informal marriage in Texas, has deep historical roots and offers a blend of tradition and legal implications. 

In this article, we'll cover the intricacies of this form of union, its legal standing, and its impact on couples who choose this path. Whether you're curious about the concept, considering it for yourself, or simply want to be informed, this comprehensive guide will shed light on every facet of Texas common law marriage.

Key Takeaways

What is Common Law Marriage in Texas?

At its core, a common law marriage, known legally in Texas as an "informal marriage," is a union between two individuals without a formal wedding ceremony or the traditional marriage license.

Instead, this form of legal marriage is based on three primary pillars.

1. Mutual Agreement

Both parties must have a mutual understanding and agreement to be husband and wife.

2. Cohabitation

The couple must live together in Texas as a married couple.

3. Public Representation

The duo should present themselves to others as a married couple, whether introducing each other as "my husband" or "my wife," wearing wedding rings or jointly filing taxes.

Interestingly, after the legalized same-sex marriage movement in the U.S., Texas, along with a handful of other states, began acknowledging the marriages of both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples. This means that regardless of gender, one can have a common law spouse in Texas.

To visualize the concept, consider this analogy: Just as a river can be formed by sudden rainfall or the gradual collection of droplets, marriage in Texas can be formalized through traditional ceremonies or the consistent, genuine actions of two committed individuals.

Does Texas Recognize Common Law Marriage?

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Yes, Texas is one of the few states in the U.S. that legally recognizes common law marriage as a form of legal marriage. This recognition isn't recent; it's deeply rooted in Texas law. Long before many modern marital laws came into place, common law marriage existed in Texas, offering couples a unique way to validate their union.

The Texas Family Code provides a framework for establishing and proving an informal marriage, ensuring that couples in such unions enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as those in ceremonial marriages.

However, it's essential to note that while Texas acknowledges these marriages, not all states do. This distinction can become particularly relevant for couples who move out of Texas and must assert their marital status in another jurisdiction.

How to Prove Common Law Marriage in Texas

Establishing a Texas common law marriage is one thing, but proving its existence, especially in legal scenarios, requires a more meticulous approach. Whether you're navigating property rights, inheritance, or divorce, having concrete evidence of your informal marriage is crucial. 

What is required for common law marriage in Texas? Here's how you can solidify your claim:

  1. Declaration of Informal Marriage: The most straightforward method is to file a Declaration of Informal Marriage with the county clerk. This document, often called the informal marriage form, is a legal testament to your union and can be undeniable proof.
  2. Joint Financial Documents: Shared bank accounts, joint tax returns, or jointly-held assets can indicate a marital relationship. These documents can serve as evidence of your financial interdependence and commitment.
  3. Public Representation: Gather instances where you've presented yourselves as a married couple. This could be invitations addressed to you both, social media posts, or even testimonies from friends and family.
  4. Shared Responsibilities: Documents that show shared responsibilities, like lease agreements, utility bills, or even school records of children, can bolster your claim.
  5. Personal Symbols: Items like wedding rings, personalized gifts, or joint membership cards can also be evidence.

Remember, the more comprehensive your proof, the stronger your claim. Consulting with a family law attorney can provide tailored advice and guidance when in doubt.

How Long is Common Law Marriage in Texas?

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A common misconception about common law marriage in Texas is that a specific duration of cohabitation is required for the relationship to be considered a marriage. In reality, there's no set "time limit" that couples must live together to establish a common law marriage.

The common law marriage is valid once the three key elements—mutual agreement, cohabitation in Texas, and public representation as a married couple—are met. Whether the couple has been together for two months or twenty years doesn't matter.

However, it's essential to understand that a common law marriage has the same legal standing as a ceremonial marriage once established. If a couple decides to part ways, they must obtain a legal divorce, just as they would in a formal marriage.

In essence, a Texas common law marriage is indefinite, lasting until either party seeks a divorce or one partner dies.

Why Choose Common Law Marriage Over Formal Marriage?

Some couples gravitate towards common law marriage instead of the traditional ceremonial route. But what drives this preference?

Here are some reasons why couples might choose common law marriage over a formal one:

  1. Simplicity and Spontaneity: For some, the idea of a big wedding, with all its planning, expenses, and ceremonies, can be overwhelming. Common law marriage offers a simpler, more spontaneous way to commit to each other without the fanfare.
  2. Cultural or Personal Beliefs: Some couples feel that their commitment doesn't need societal rituals to validate it. Their bond, understanding, and mutual agreement are enough for them.
  3. Financial Considerations: Weddings can be expensive. By choosing a common law marriage, couples can avoid the costs associated with a traditional wedding and instead use those funds for other joint ventures or experiences.
  4. Privacy: Common law marriages can be more private and personal. There's no need for public announcements, guest lists, or ceremonies. The commitment remains a personal matter between the two individuals.
  5. Flexibility: For those who aren't sure about the legal implications and responsibilities tied to a formal marriage, common law marriage offers a chance to experience marital life without the immediate legal bindings.
  6. Inclusivity for Same-Sex Couples: Before the legalization of same-sex marriage, many same-sex couples opted for common law marriages in states that recognized them, as it was one of the few ways they could validate their relationship.
  7. Avoiding the Marriage "Label": Some couples prefer not to label their relationship under the conventional terms of "married" but still want to enjoy the benefits that come with it.

While common law marriage isn't for everyone, it's a testament to the myriad ways love and commitment manifest in our modern world. Whether it's a formal wedding with all the traditional trappings or a quiet mutual agreement between two souls, what truly matters is the bond and understanding shared between the partners.

How to Disprove Common Law Marriage in Texas

While establishing marriage under common law in Texas requires evidence and proof, disproving one can be equally challenging. There may be instances where one party claims the existence of a common law marriage while the other denies it. In such cases, how can one disprove the union? 

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Lack of Mutual Agreement: Demonstrating that there was never a mutual agreement or intention to be husband and wife can be a strong starting point. Personal communications, like messages or letters, can serve as evidence.
  • Separate Lives: Show that you maintained separate lives. Separate bank accounts, individual tax returns, and distinct social circles can indicate a lack of marital intent.
  • Public Representation: If you've consistently introduced each other as just friends, roommates, or even as engaged—but not married—this can serve as evidence against a marital relationship.
  • Legal Documents: Any legal documents, like wills or medical directives, where the other party is not listed as a spouse can be used to challenge the claim.
  • Seek Expert Help: A family law attorney can provide insights, gather evidence, and represent your interests in court.

Disproving a common law marriage can be intricate, but it's achievable with the proper evidence and legal guidance.

FAQs About Texas Common Law Marriage

What are the benefits of common law marriage in Texas?

Texas common law marriage offers several benefits similar to those of a ceremonial marriage. These include:

  • Inheritance Rights: In the event of a partner's death, the surviving spouse has the right to inheritance even without a will.
  • Community Property: Assets acquired during the marriage are considered community property, or marital property, and are divided equally upon common law divorce.
  • Spousal Support: One partner may be eligible for Texas spousal maintenance or alimony upon separation.
  • Healthcare and Employment Benefits: Many employers offer benefits to common law spouses, including health insurance.
  • Decision-making Rights: In medical or financial emergencies, spouses can make decisions on behalf of their partner.
  • Legal Marriage Date: While there might not be a traditional wedding date, the date of mutual agreement or the filing of the Declaration of Informal Marriage can often serve as the legal marriage date.

Do unmarried partners have any rights in Texas?

In Texas, partners who don't meet the criteria for common law marriage are considered unmarried. While they don't enjoy the full spectrum of marital rights, they can:

  • Establish cohabitation agreements to outline financial arrangements.
  • Create medical directives or powers of attorney to grant decision-making rights.
  • Designate each other as beneficiaries in wills or insurance policies.

Is Texas the only state with common law marriage?

No, Texas is not the only state that recognizes common law marriage. Several other states, including Colorado, Iowa, and Kansas, also acknowledge these unions. Meanwhile, other states like Illinois do not recognize common law marriages under their own law, but will recognize common law marriages validly established in a state where they are legal.

However, each state has its own criteria and legal implications, making it essential to understand local laws if considering or claiming a common law marriage outside of Texas.

Summing It Up

So, does Texas recognize common law marriage? Yes, it does. In a world where various forms of unions are recognized, the fact that common law marriage exists in Texas stands as a unique blend of tradition and legality.

While it offers an alternative to the ceremonial rites of marriage, it carries the same weight of responsibility and legal implications. Whether you're considering entering into such a union, seeking to prove or disprove its existence, or simply curious about its intricacies, it's clear that understanding the nuances is crucial.

As with any legal matter, the landscape of common law marriage is intricate and layered. It's always advisable to consult with a family law attorney to navigate its complexities, ensuring that your rights are protected, and your responsibilities are clear.